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

(Click Here to read Part 1 first)

Chapter Eight

The Importance Of Nonviolence (Part 2 of 2)

“For nothing can be more abhorrent to the Christian man than wholesale slaughter. Nothing can be more desired by us than the promised era when men shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon: “A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ”, 1870

Take Action for Nonviolence

I started writing this book as a Christian College student, and I am currently a Youth Pastor in the suburbs.  I have no military training, I don’t live in a violent area, and I am free to write what I do without the fear of physical harm.  It’s easy to advocate for nonviolence in the suburbs of America.  

But it’s not easy everywhere…

That is one of the reasons why I gave the examples of the Anabaptists, and others who have proven their commitment to this idea amidst conflict and were willing to put their lives on the line for it.  Not because they were united in some humanitarian movement…but because they were devoted to follow Jesus Christ; even in the areas that get a little messy.

One inspiring example of this kind of devotion is the story of Dirk Willems.  Dirk was an anabaptist in the radical reformation of the 16th century.   As was common, he was imprisoned for his anabaptist beliefs inside of a palace converted into a prison, complete with a moat!  On one icy night, Dirk escaped and was able to navigate the thinly iced moat, but a guard who saw him escape and followed him fell through the ice behind him.  Faced with the choice between his own life, or saving another life, Dirk remained committed to his beliefs of radical love for his enemies and rescued his pursuer, only to be imprisoned again, and burned at the stake for his escape attempt on May 16, 1569.  He remains an example to us to follow, even when it may not be able to do so.

So you may be asking….what Business do I have in writing this book?

Honestly, the book was originally started as a smaller work because a former youth student told me that he was considering entering the military after graduation.   Since this youth was under my pastoral care, I  at least wanted to present by viewpoint because he likely would not have heard the argument from anyone else at the church, as the church was not a historic peace church (Like the Mennonites, Brethren, Quakers) where such topics are an intricate part of their understanding of God and others.

But ultimately,  I continued the smaller work that I gave him into this larger, more refined, work because I believe that God does not desire any man or woman to kill another human being created in the image of God.  So while I have the opportunity to speak freely, I am going to do so by advocating for peace, and in attempting to provide more material in this area of study.  But the process of studying, reading, and writing has not been easy.

In “Redeemed Natures”, I have laid out what I believe to be the Will of God over the Christian life in response to the question “Is a Christian ever permitted to kill?”.  My position and defense is largely centered on the commands of Christ to love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, turn the other cheek, and upon his example of nonviolent response to violent scenarios.  In my view, the argument should be able to rest there because Christ is the full revelation of God (Col. 2:9); however, if the argument could simply rest there for the majority of others, Christian Nonviolence would already be the predominant view held by Christians.  Because this is not the case, this work was written with that in mind by attempting to tackle the apparent contradictions in the Old Testament to these nonviolent words and examples of Christ.  And although this work is not meant to compete with the works of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, or other esteemed scholars in this field of study, I believe that I have laid out a foundation for your further study of Christian Nonviolence, should you chose to dig deeper.  

Talking about nonviolence while talking about the Old Testament can be quite challenging.  My view of those apparently contradicting passages may change with time, and I am open to that…but this is where I am at NOW, and I believe that what I have come up with is worth sharing.  Through my classes at Bible College, and through reading and studying the Bible apart from my classes, I learned more about these complicated passages, and their surrounding contexts.  While in college, I also took the opportunity to speak with fellow students and professors on the subject, who mostly did not agree with my view, which further strengthened my support of the Christian Nonviolent viewpoint that I hold today.  I also have engaged people all the way from Unitarian/Universalists, to conservative reformed folks, in conversation about this topic.  Still, I used this book as motivation to push me even further into study by forcing myself to engage these complicated texts, and reading from authors who both agreed and disagreed with my viewpoint, all in order to deepen my understanding , and to further grasp all of the complexities and the various perspectives that exist when dealing with this topic.  And although I do not believe that I am done learning, I believe that what I have learned up to this point is worth sharing.

The Call For YOU

As I wrote about earlier, the majority of us will not face a dramatic situation in which we will have to make a decision – to kill our enemy, or to let them live – whatever the cost.  Most of us will not go through that, or at least do not go through it on a daily basis.  

That is why I would love for you  to take a step with me, if you haven’t already, and see the call for nonviolence as what it is:  A calling of God over the Christian life that calls us to rise above our natural responses to evil around us.  Why NOT follow the option that, biblically, might be the safest (If nonviolence is true, all killing is murder) – when you likely will not face a violent scenario anyway?

Maybe you are not ready to say that you know another way to address a violent scenario other than violently retaliating…

Maybe you are not ready to say that, when the rubber meets the road, that you would remain committed to nonviolence…

But you don’t have to be there yet.  In fact, as I will go into in the Appendix, very few us us could honestly say how we would respond when our lives, or the lives of those we love, are threatened.

Right now, all I am asking is that you consider whether or not you believe that nonviolence is the Will of God.  And if you can’t come out with a good response on why it isn’t the will of God, I invite you to join me in praying to our God together, and to join me in the pursuit of nonviolence.  During these times of peace, you have the opportunity of being a true voice for peace, as opposed to letting violence go unchecked.

For if we never let ourselves think about possible nonviolent solutions to violent scenarios, we likely will never be able to respond to a scenario without violence.  And furthermore, if we never allow nonviolence to be a possibility, we are actually advocating for war, for violence…for death.  My calling upon you is to honestly wrestle with this issue, like I have, and intend to continue doing.  

For too long has the nonviolent message been muffled under the call for practicality; ignoring the very powerful nonviolent teachings and example of Christ.  

And Fairly, for too long have those who advocate for peace based on the words of Christ completely dismissed or ignored the complicated war passages of the Old Testament, instead of actually addressing them, and helping others see nonviolence as the Perfect Will of God as revealed throughout Scripture.  

So whether you believe Christians can kill in certain instances, or you believe that they cannot kill under any circumstance, my calling upon you is to wrestle with this topic honestly and thoroughly.  This topic is WAY too important to do otherwise.  And if proponents of peace continue to ignore the questions generated by Old Testament passages, they they can never formulate an argument for peace that will satisfy those with the questions.

For all,  to use an argument inspired by Pascal’s Wager that I alluded to earlier, if the Will of God is to never kill, and we allow for killing under certain circumstances, we are still responsible for those deaths; if the will of God allows for killing, and we advocate against killing while still working towards peaceful resolution, we are not being unfaithful to the will of God by doing so.  In short, advocating for peace in all circumstances is the safest road to take, spiritually; for if God desires justice on men, God will carry out that justice, regardless of our involvement.

If you have made it this far, and you did not hold to Christian Nonviolence at the start, I sincerely hope to have caused you to pause in thought, and to seriously consider if what I am advocating for is truly the Will of God over your life.  I am not ignorant of the fact that there are many other positions to hold, and that these positions also have a biblical argument, and so, I sincerely thank you for giving this work, and this view, a shot.  

If you need more of a substantial argument, please see my book recommendations after this chapter, and also try reading some of the additional material in the Appendix section that deals more so with the “What would you do if…” question, as well as a FAQ section that I felt would distract from the trust of my argument in the main body of this text.

May the love of Christ compel us to love others, regardless of difference.

May the mercy of God compel us to see that every person is deserving of His mercy, as well as our own.

May the justice of God compel us to be peaceful in our words, and actions; living sacrificially in service to Him. 

May we trust the Lord to rule the earth, as we open our fists, drop our swords, and take up the cross.

Works Referenced

Oyer, John S., and Robert Kreider. “Dirk Willems.” Compassion For The Enemy. Goshen.edu, 1995. Web. 19 May 2016. Website was referencing: John S. Oyer and Robert Kreider, Mirror of the Martyrs [Good Books, 1990], p. 36-37.

Snow, Michael (2011-10-01). Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way (Kindle Locations 612-613). mikesnow.org. Kindle Edition.

Spurgeon, Charles H. “Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 16: 1870.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Ccel.org, 1 June 2005. Web. 18 May 2016.Sermon: “A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ” JUNE 26, 1870
Yoder, John Howard (2009-12-01). The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking (pp. 87-88, 95). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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

Chapter Eight

The Importance Of Nonviolence (Part 1 of 2)

“For nothing can be more abhorrent to the Christian man than wholesale slaughter. Nothing can be more desired by us than the promised era when men shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon: “A Good Soldier Of Jesus Christ”, 1870

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

-What good is nonviolence in our imperfect world?

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

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

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

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

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

Nonviolence, or Just War?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Setbacks to Nonviolence

It’s Not Logical

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

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

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

It Divides Allegiances

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

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

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

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

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

The Fruits of Nonviolence

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

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

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

 

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

Click Here to Read Part Two

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

(Click Here to read Part 1 first)

My Family Legacy

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

Clair S. Bauman

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

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

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

J. Walter Hackman

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

On why he became a CO:

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

On Payment:  

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

On What COs did:  

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

On the perception of others, and of themselves:

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

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

On the roles of the Christian and Government:

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

On the thankfulness of the government:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilmer R. Yoder

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion – An Active Nonviolence

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

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

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

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

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


 

Works Referenced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 3 of 3)

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

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

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

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

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

The Vision

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

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

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

The Edict of Milan

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

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

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

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

The First Council of Nicaea

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

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

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

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

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

Edict of Thessalonica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Conclusion

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

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

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


 

Works Referenced

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

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

“Didache”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Six – Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 1 of 3)

Click Here to see all posts in this series

Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 1 of 3)

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

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

Throughout the Church’s history, there has been a lot of instances in which violence has been wielded through the arms of the church.  The Crusades are one famous example of the church wielding violence, but there has also been a lot of violence being done in God’s name through governments that have a close relationship to the Church.  The violence done in the name of God.  Whether that be The Crusades, or nations which claimed that every action that they committed was the will of God.  Regardless of if the violence came through the hands of the church, or through the hands of a country claiming to be doing the will of God, the resulting question remains:  How does this align with Jesus, who is the fullness of God (Col. 2:9)?  

When Nazi soldiers wore belt buckles that said “Gott Mit Uns”, meaning “God with us”, was that in the Will of God/Christ?

When the Crusaders fought in the name of God, through the arms of the church… was that in the Will of God/Christ?

Early Christians dealt with these issues as they found themselves, jews and gentiles, together united under a new faith.  In his book, Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea, author and journalist Mark Kurlansky examines the idea of nonviolence through several cultures, and religions, and has this to say about the early church, pre-constantine, on the subject:

“For 284 years, roughly the same span of time as from the end of Louis XIV’s reign in France to the beginning of the twenty-first century, Christians remained an antiwar cult. Christian writers emphasized the incompatibility of warfare with Christian teachings. Some characterized warfare as the work of evil spirits and weapons as cursed. They labeled the taking of human life in warfare murder.” (Kindle Locations 356-358)

Two hundred and eighty four years sounds like a lot, and just for perspective’s sake:  Americans declared independence from Britain in 1776, which is STILL not up to 284 years ago yet.  We will get to why things shifted in a little bit, but I wanted to point this out as a testament to the roots of the nonviolence movement – it’s not an idea imposed on the bible by “hippies and liberals”…It’s something that people DIED and were beaten for throughout Christianity’s history.  Early Christians who refused to fight back against their persecutors.  Anabaptists who refused to fight back against other Christians in the late 1600s.  Christian african-american activists who refused to fight back as they were beaten as they nonviolently protested the racist laws that governed the way that they lived. And many others.

The earliest Christians refused to take up arms, and had strong convictions about it.  Christians who were not too far removed from when Jesus walked the earth, or when Peter, John, and Paul were still preaching and writing, refused to take up arms when it sometimes costed them their lives.

For this chapter, I will be using several sources to point out specific examples of early Christians advocating against warfare, and/or violence, and advocating for peace, and nonviolence.  A wonderful sourcebook on the topic has been written by Ronald Sider, and it is this book that I will use predominantly.  Please see the book information below, and consider reading it for further study on this subject matter:

Sider, Ronald J. The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012. Print.

I am not a historian, and so, this chapter will not be as weighty with my own personal interpretations as the chapters on the study of the Scriptures were, but it will more so serve as a glimpse of the opinions of the early church on the matter, and hopefully will encourage further research by the reader.

The Didache – 80-120 A.D.

“Didachē, ( Greek: “Teaching”, ) also called Teaching Of The Twelve Apostles,  the oldest surviving Christian church order, probably written in Egypt or Syria in the 2nd century. In 16 short chapters it deals with morals and ethics, church practice, and the eschatological hope (of the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time) and presents a general program for instruction and initiation into the primitive church.” – Encyclopaedia Britannica

The Didache served as a statement on how to live, as well as made statements on church order.  It is a glimpse into how the early church may have functioned, and a look into how they thought.  The work is broken down into 16 chapters, or sections, and the first section starts with saying that there are two ways – one of life, and one of death.  The way of life is described in the first chapter by Loving God, Loving your Neighbor, following the golden rule, and immediately after that, it says:

“Bless those who curse you,” and “pray for your enemies.” Moreover, fast “for those who persecute you.” For “what credit is it to you if you love those who love you? Is that not the way the heathen act?” But “you must love those who hate you,” and then you will make no enemies. “Abstain from carnal passions.” If someone strikes you “on the right cheek, turn to him the other too, and you will be perfect.” If someone “forces you to go one mile with him, go along with him for two” – From Didache 1 as seen on ccel.org

To the early Christian writers of the Didache, the Sermon on the Mount and more specifically these teachings from Matthew 5, were very important for the Christian to live the “way of life”.  The first chapter in this ancient work follows what Christ said were the two greatest commandments, which is are Love God, and to Love others, and it didn’t stop there, but it also instructed its readers of the love that doesn’t come easy – loving our enemies, praying for our persecutors, and going the extra mile of good for the person who shows you no goodness in return.  Not only did the New Testament text confirm Christian nonviolence, but this early church document did as well. Nonviolence is not a new idea.

Justin Martyr – 100 – 167 A.D.

Justin Martyr is known for being one of the earliest Christian Apologists, or defenders of the faith.  He started out as a philosophy student, and then came to find Christianity to be the truest philosophy, and so his arguments incorporated philosophical reasoning.

A few of his writings have lasted through time, and I will be quoting excerpts from his First and Second Apology, and from his Dialogue with Trypho.

First Apology

“We who hated and destroyed one another, and on account of their different manners would not live with people of a different tribe, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them, and pray for our enemies, and endeavor to persuade those who hate us unjustly to live according to the good precepts of Christ, to the end that they may become partakers with us of the same joyful hope of a reward from God the ruler of all” – from Chapter 14 of Justin’s First Apology, as quoted in “The Early Church on Killing” by Ronald Sider, pg. 24

The above excerpt is from Justin’s First Apology, written to Antoninus Pius, Emperor of Rome, which was a plea for the emperor to not persecute the Christians by explaining the faith to the emperor, and how this faith does not make Christians disloyal citizens, or rebels as they were seen.

In the excerpt quoted, in part 14 of his Apology, Justin conveys the transformative nature of the Christian faith by highlighting how their quarrels with those different from them has ceased, and how they even have begun praying for their enemies. This would have conveyed that the Christians were not violent rebels, but a people of faith focused on peace and reconciliation.  In the face of persecution, prejudice, and social alienation, Christians were praying for their enemies, and making amends with those who may have wronged them.

Second Apology

“We have been taught that God did not make the world aimlessly, but for the sake of the human race; and we have before stated that He takes pleasure in those who imitate His Properties, and is displeased with those that embrace what is worthless either in word or deed.  If, then, we all kill ourselves, we shall become the cause, as far as in us lies, why no one should be born, or instructed in the divine doctrines, or even why the human race should not exist; and we shall, if we so act, be ourselves acting in opposition to the will of God.  But when we are examined, we make no denial” – from Chapter 4 of Justin’s Second Apology. Sider, 25

The Second Apology of Justin was written “to show that the Christian faith alone was truly rational. He [Justin] taught that the Logos (Word) became incarnate to teach humanity truth and to redeem people from the power of the demons.” – Christianity Today

The excerpt above showcases how Christ redeemed people from their sinful natures so that they are able to go against their desire to kill their enemies, or others.  Justin argues that if Christians kill their fellow human beings, they take away those person’s lives, the lives of their possible unborn children, and their chance to hear the Gospel.  He then follows the logic through that if retaliation was resorted to by all whom wrong was done against, the human race would dwindle so much that we should question why we even deserve to exist.  If Christians, he says, kill their fellow human beings, they are acting in opposition to the Will of God.

Dialogue with Trypho

Justin’s “Dialogue with Trypho” was written to a Jewish man with the purpose of arguing that Christianity should be accepted if one properly understood the Jewish scriptures. Within this dialogue, after quoting Micah 4:1-7, which is a passage about turning swords into ploughshares, Justin says the following:

“We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons – our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage, – and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified” –   from section 110 of Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho. Sider, 26.

In order to prove that Jesus was the Messiah, that Christianity is the true carrying out of the Hebrew scriptures and prophecies, Justin stated that Christians gave up their yearnings for violence, and embraced the way of peace through changing the way that the lived and interacted with others in order to be obedient to God’s Will.

Irenaeus – 130 – 202 A.D.

Irenaeus was the Bishop of Lyons France from 177 – 202 A.D.  He is best known for his work “Against Heresies” in which he refuted Gnosticism, and in doing so, he provided a look at second century Christianity, and the issues that it was trying to combat.

I am going to highlight two excerpts from Irenaeus’ writings that highlight his positions on the topic of Christian Nonviolence.

Against Heresies

“But if the law of liberty, that is, the word of God, preached by the apostles (who went forth from Jerusalem) throughout all the earth, caused such a change in the state of things, that these nations did form the swords and war-lances into ploughshares, and changed them into pruning-hooks for reaping the corn, that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes, and that they are now unaccustomed to fighting, but when smitten, offer also the other cheek, then the prophets have not spoken these things of any other person, but of Him who effected them.  This person is our Lord.” – from 4.34 in Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. Sider, 28.

Jesus is the Messiah who conveyed messages focused on instructing the Will of God on how His people ought to live, and gave his life in order to reconcile fallen human beings.  Jesus’ messages of enemy love, and nonviolence were radial to his audience, as we covered before, and as seen in this quote from Irenaeus, the writings of Justin, and others, his teachings of nonviolence, and the early Church following these teachings, were seen as a fulfillment to the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah about swords into plough shares.  

Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

“Therefore also we have no need of the law as pedagogue….For no more shall the law say: … thou shalt not kill, to him who has put away from himself all anger and enmity….Nor an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to him who counts no man his enemy, but all his neighbors, and therefore cannot even put forth his hand to revenge.” – from chapter 96 in Irenaeus’ Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. Sider, 29-30.

The previous chapter, chapter 95, in this work ended with the following sentence: “Now the love of God is far from all sin, and love to the neighbour worketh no ill to the neighbour” (as translated by Roger Pearse) , and so the next section would then be the fulfilment of that ethic, which would be the transformation of a follower of Christ so that they would not have to be told to not kill, for they would not have the desire to do so, as they have been radically changed by the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Tertullian – 160 – 225 A.D.

Tertullian is regarded as one of the most important early church authors and theologians who wrote in Latin prior to Augustine, according to Sider on page 42.  It is in Tertullian’s writings that we find perhaps the most convincing arguments against Christian’s going to war, or utilizing violence.

Apology

“If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies … whom have we to hate?  If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands?’

‘For what wars should we not be fit, and ready even with unequal forces, we who so willingly yield ourselves to the sword, if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slain” – Two excerpts from chapter 37 of Tertullian’s Apology. Sider, 45

Again, we see an early church father take Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence quite literally in asking, how can we hate, when we are told to love our enemies? Or how can one be a soldier when our faith teaches us that it is better to die, than to kill?

On Idolatry

“But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military [man] may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments.  There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness.  One soul cannot be due to two masters – God and Caesar’

‘But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away?  For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier.  No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action” – Two excerpts from chapter 19 of Tertullian’s On Idolatry. Sider, 50-51

In this chapter, Tertullian writes that Christians should not be in the military, no matter the position, or likliness of involvement in violence, for two reasons.  

The first reason Tertullian gave against Christians joining military was because a Christian has no business taking part in Sacrifices, which were to a pagan god(s).  Essentially, being a part of the military necessitated involvement in pagan religious ceremonies, which a Christian could not do, due to fact that there is only one God.

In modern American times, the military is divorced from any sort of religion on an official level.  Chaplains exist for soldiers to find spiritual guidance in whatever faith they follow, but there is no state-sponsored religion.  And so the question comes down to:  Does Tertullian’s first argument against Christians in the military still hold any weight?

I would argue that it does because the root of the problem was Christians being commanded by their government to do that which is contrary to the Will of God, and that the government would demand allegiance of that Christian’s life in all things.  Patriotism/Nationalism can be extremely damaging to the Christian faith if the love, or devotion, of country overrides their love and devotion to the Lord.  I doubt many sincere Christians would renounce their faith if their government tells them to…it’s not as obvious as that.  The danger happens when political views and religious views meet and politics come into theology, and starts whispering in the ear, “Jesus didn’t mean it like that” so that Christians become more willing to go to war, support its government’s wars, and utter the phrase “For God And Country”.  

Nationalism hard-wires the brain to believe that we are better than people in other countries because of lines on a map, and when that mindset infiltrates our theology, our interpretation of the scriptures and their calling to our lives, become, in part, dependent on what we believe is congruent with our political and social identity.  This is why Christians were Nazis. This is why Christians owned slaves. This is why, currently, some Christians in the hard political right look in disgust and scorn at the poor, instead of out of a place of compassion – regardless of who they believe is responsible to provide them aid.  This is also why some Christians in the hard political left accept the pro-choice rhetoric as a societal good – without advocating against abortion and for adoption within the walls of their churches.  Politics can infiltrate theology like how a cancer can gradually take over the body.  And so serving in a governmental position, or any position for that matter, where you would be expected to do/support things contrary to the Will of God is not wise for the Christian, just as it wasn’t wise in Tertullian’s day.  

The Second reason Tertullian gave against Christians joining the military was that Christianity, as he understood it, did not allow for the taking of life.  His basis for that belief came from Christ’s teaching, and in how he told Peter, after Peter struck the ear of one of the men trying to capture Jesus, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51), and “Put your sword back into its place” and “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt. 26:52).  His writing, as quoted above, says that by disarming Peter, Jesus disarmed every soldier who identified as Christian. And if that was not enough to give his audience pause, he wrote “No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action”.  Note that he was not talking about governmental laws, for he was speaking about the enforcers of those laws, and agents of a government.  He was talking about the government committing unlawful action against the law and Will of God for the Christian.

What is confusing then is why many other Christians throughout Church History advocated for their country’s military, and for the Christian’s involvement in it, when the texts that Tertullian used to found his arguments were available to all of his predecessors.  We know through my covering of the Old Testament that there are some passages within it that could cause someone to believe that Christians can go to war, but when it comes to Jesus, there is simply no permission to do so. Christians have debated this conundrum for centuries, saying we have to look at Scripture holistically, or saying that Jesus is the prime authority on the matter, but the debate still continues.

I would like to submit a question:  If this debate has been going on for centuries, and if you can see, at minimal, how both sides arrived to their conclusion, which side would be safest to take, theologically?

If a Christian decides to join the military because they do not see a conflict with their faith, but the Will of God is for them to abstain from it, they would be going against the Will of God, and would be held accountable for any blood on their hands.

If a Christian decides to abstain from joining the military because they see a conflict with their faith, but the Will of God allows for them to join the military, they commit no posible sin in abstaining, and are merely wrong in their understanding God’s Will, without going against it themselves.

The debate of self-defense, or the defense of others, is not to be had at the moment; we will get to that in the Appendix section.  This question is purely asking – what measurable good comes out of a Christian joining the military, when the Church has been divided on whether or not killing in warfare is a sin for centuries?

From a pastoral perspective, how a pastor, or church leader, handles this topic hypothetically is also very important.  For many church goers, their church leaders are their prime source for spiritual guidance, and some will make whatever decision their church leader points them toward, believing that it is within the Will of God.  This is one of the reasons why this debate should not be glazed over to be left up to personal choice, but should be deliberately thought about by church leaders.

*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)

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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.

Passionate Spirituality: A faith that keeps walking

I grew up in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday, attended Sunday school, youth group, and I accepted Christ at a very early age.  For years, it was Enough for me to simply be involved in the church, pray at meals, and wear “W.W.J.D” bracelets.

But over time, it wasn’t enough; it didn’t sustain me.

I started to realize that the faith that I had, though it was genuine, was based more on my upbringing and memorizing bible verses than it was based on my personal wrestling with the questions I had already been told the answers to.

In 11th grade, I started reading the bible for the first time on my own, and I started to pray more throughout my days.  I began to notice a thirst for knowing more about God that wasn’t there before, and I knew that I wanted to continually seek Him.

The story of life includes various seasons that bring both high hills of productivity, determination, and passionate interest, as well as low valleys of depression, doubt, and failure.

Oftentimes, we get so hung up on our imperfections that it stalls our progression of faith.  We think that God will puppet our lives according to how much we pray, how we “feel” about God at the moment, or how much we sin.  In thinking this way, we forget that God has called the imperfect to do his perfect Will since the days of Noah.   In thinking this way, we deny the full power of God’s Grace over our lives, and we assume that a God willing to die for the world won’t love us as much if we mess up just once.

Noah was a man God called to build the Ark, and once the flood waters subsided, Noah settled in with his family, grew a vineyard, and got drunk….Noah wasn’t perfect.  (Genesis 9:20-21 – NRSV)

Abraham was a man named Abram who did not seek God (as best we know) before God called him to be the start of the Nation of Israel.  Abraham did not Trust that God would give him a son through his own wife, so he slept with a servant….Abraham wasn’t perfect. (Genesis 16:1-2 – NRSV)

David was called to be the King of Israel, was described, by God, to be a man after God’s own heart. David committed adultery, and then sent the woman’s husband to the front lines of a battle…David Wasn’t perfect. (2 Samuel 11:2-15 – NRSV)

The Apostle Paul, before he was a believer, would hunt down followers of Jesus and persecute them.  After he became a believer and was called to be an Apostle, he still did something(s) that he did not wish to do…Paul wasn’t perfect. (1 Cor. 15:9, Romans 7:15-20  – NRSV)

So please, can we, myself included, move past the “I’m not good enough” mentality?  God sees us as Men and Women of God – we just have to follow Him.

Passionate Spirituality isn’t about doing all the right things all the time…its about having the desire to move forward, even when your life seems to be telling you to give up.   It is not about having faith that never doubts; but having a faith that seeks to grow from having those doubts.  Passionate Spirituality is a drive to know God more, love God more, love others more…all while going through our hills and valleys of bliss and despair.

So when we go to Church on Sundays, rejoice in knowing that God loves you, and you have the opportunity to join other believers to Worship and Know God more.

When you see your bible at home, do not see it as a scary book that is only for the “good” people, see it as God’s story of redemption.

When you pray at meals, in the morning, at night…Know that God loves you, and calls you to more than yourself – YOU are a part of His plan for the World.

Passionate Spirituality is a lifestyle centered around knowing God more.

If you want to grow more in your faith, but you do not know where to start – email lambtheology@gmail.com and I will see if I can help.  Or comment below!

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Discussion Questions:

Why do we go to Church?

What do you do in order to grow closer to God?

What book, chapter, or verse in the bible has been the most meaningful in your life? Why?

A devotional on insecurity hindering potential

On their album, “Continued Silence”, Imagine Dragons produced a song called “Demons”, and the lyrics of the chorus are shown below:

 “When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide” – Imagine Dragons – “Demons”

In the song, the band conveys an honest aspect of humanity: Imperfection.  The “Demons” mentioned in the song are insecurities and past mistakes that make a person vulnerable.   We try to hide the dark parts of ourselves from others, and in some instances this self-censorship becomes a hindrance to our progression as friends, spouses, and even as Christians.  We think we are not “good enough”, so we hold ourselves back.  We think people won’t like us, so we remain silent.

In another song by Jon Foreman called “Equally Skilled”, Foreman laments over his own and humanity’s imperfections, but he ties it up with some ending lines that tell of God’s perfection:

“Both of His hands are equally skilled
At showing me mercy, equally skilled
At loving the loveless, equally skilled
Administering justice, both of His hands, both of His hands” – Jon Foreman – “Equally Skilled”

These two songs communicate humanity’s imperfections, but Foreman’s lyrics give us a hope that at least God has got it right.  Which brings me to the following point:

Humans can be good, or bad.  We can have insecurities and imperfections, BUT in being made in the image of God…we have GREAT potential.  Our “Demons” can hold us back, while God, accepting who we are – including our imperfections, calls us to move forward and to be His Hands on earth.

The early church wasn’t perfect.  The early church was composed of a bunch of new people who needed a lot of direction and correction to keep moving forward together, and to advance the faith.

In Acts 4:22-37, a passage which I wrote about HERE, the early church is spoken of as sharing their possessions so that there was “no needy person among them”.

They weren’t perfect.  They likely worked hard for their money, and were hesitant to share.  But they got past their “demons” of pride and selfishness, and became self-less in order to be God’s caring hands to those around them.

What can YOU do to help your fellow person?