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.

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

The Rise of Anabaptism

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

The Early Beginnings – 1525

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

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

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

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

The Schleitheim Confession – 1527

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

-Baptism

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

-The Ban (Excommunication)

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

-Breaking of Bread

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

-Separation from the Abomination

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

-Pastors in the Church

A description of the responsibilities of the Pastor

-The Sword

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

-The Oath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anabaptist Persecution

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

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

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

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

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

The Münster Rebellion – 1534-1535

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace in the Name of Christ

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

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

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

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

 

(Click Here to continue to Part 2)

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

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

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Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 3 of 3)

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

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

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

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

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

The Vision

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

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

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

The Edict of Milan

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

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

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

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

The First Council of Nicaea

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

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

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

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

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

Edict of Thessalonica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Conclusion

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

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

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


 

Works Referenced

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

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

“Didache”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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Chapter Three

The Teachings of Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

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

John 2:14-17 – Overturned Tables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, how can we explain this?

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

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

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

Verse 38:

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

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

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

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

The Influence of Christ’s Example Of Nonviolence

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

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

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

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

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


 

Works Referenced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Two – Addressing The Old Testament (Part 2 of 2)

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Addressing the Old Testament

(Part 2 of 2)

God’s use of Government to carry out His Will

When discussing this topic, the question always arises:  how do we handle passages in which God blesses, or sanctions, war as carried out by the Israelites in the Old Testament?

This question is extremely important in this discussion, and I will attempt not to skirt the validity behind asking it;  though, I will be upfront like I said earlier, and admit to you that the Old Testament does not, by itself, support the nonviolent ethic I advocate for.  Instead, I believe that it points to it in glimpses of God’s perfect Will amidst these difficult passages, and this Will is made apparent in Christ’s teachings.

I cannot for the sake of length, and for the sake of my own sanity, go through every instance of battle in this section. However, I would like to highlight some passages that would do adequate justice to attempting to answer this valuable question.

Exodus 17:8-13

“8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” (ESV)

To begin in our understanding of this passage, we must first recognize that the Israelites at this point were not trained and professional warriors; they needed God’s help.  Moses trusted that God would aid them in battle, and so he devoted himself to the Lord in recognizing this need for help, and raised his arms and his staff throughout the whole battle, with the help of Aaron and Hur when his arms and body grew weary.

This passage communicates both the real intervention of God in Old Testament warfare, as well as the need and call for his people to have faith in Him, and to give Him the Glory.  Moses did not arrogantly think that they could do this without God, or His blessing, he knew that God was absolutely essential to overcoming this early enemy that was trying to crush the people that God desired to lead to the promised land.

Deuteronomy 1:41-45

“41 “Then you answered me, ‘We have sinned against the Lord. We ourselves will go up and fight, just as the Lord our God commanded us.’ And every one of you fastened on his weapons of war and thought it easy to go up into the hill country.

42 And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’ 43 So I spoke to you, and you would not listen; but you rebelled against the command of the Lord and presumptuously went up into the hill country.44 Then the Amorites who lived in that hill country came out against you and chased you as bees do and beat you down in Seir as far as Hormah. 45 And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you. 46 So you remained at Kadesh many days, the days that you remained there.(ESV)

Preceding this passage, is the information regarding how the Hebrews sinned against the Lord.  In verses 19-40, we see that the Israelites were told to go and take possession of the land that God had promised to them, the hill country of the Amorites, and they were hold that they needn’t fear, for the Lord was with them.  Upon exploring this new land, the Israelites became fearful of the fortified cities, and the civilization dwelling there, so they refused to take possession of the land, even though the Lord said that He would give it to them. Because of this, the Lord punished them by saying that because of their disbelief in His mighty power, they were not permitted to enter the land, and were instead told to wander in the wilderness (Deut. 1:40).

It is here where the Israelites, recognizing their sin, decide to go up and fight themselves, relying on the Lord’s previous blessing which they did not trust the first time.  Concerned for His people, the Lord told Moses to tell them to not go up and fight, for the Lord will not be with them.  Moses conveyed this very important message to the people, and they chose to proceed with the conquest anyway, without the Lord’s blessing.  

They did not win this battle, for God was not with them.

Matthew Henry, an 18th century minister and theologian, accurately wrote in his well-renowned commentary of the Bible, that:

“An unbelieving heart was at the bottom of this.  All disobedience to God’s laws, and distrust of His power and goodness, flow from disbelief of His word, as all true obedience springs from faith”(pg. 183)

Therefore, this account conveys the truth of the first account mentioned in this section from Exodus 17:8-13; The Lord’s blessing, and faith in that blessing, is absolutely essential for the involvement in battle.  Without the Lord’s blessing, the army will succumb to the power of the enemy.

1 Samuel 13:8-14

8 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel. But Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. 9 So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came. And Saul went out to meet him and greet him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” And Saul said, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.” 13 And Samuel said to Saul,“You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”” (ESV)

Like the preceding account, this account indicates that the Lord detests when humanity takes these things into their own hands apart from the Lord’s blessing.  The context of this passage was that the Philistines were preparing for battle, and Saul sought the blessing of the Lord over this battle through Samuel, the Prophet.  But Saul, after waiting the amount of days prescribed by Samuel, took the matter into his own hands on the final day by offering a burnt sacrifice to the Lord which he figured would bless him in battle.  After doing this, Samuel arrived.

The problem was that Saul knew that Samuel would eventually come, but he was scared of the approaching battle so he did not trust Samuel to come in time, and therefore, he did not trust that God would Move in time.  It was then that we read in verses 13-14, that Samuel communicated to King Saul that his kingdom, which would have lasted through his sons, is now going to end with him.  Samuel even informed Saul that God has already selected a new King to come along in due time; one that would honor the Lord (this would be King David).

Habakkuk 1:1-11

“1 The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.

2 “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth.  For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.”

5 “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded.  For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.  6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. 7 They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. 8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on.  Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. 9 They all come for violence, all their faces forward.  They gather captives like sand.  10 At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it.  11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”(ESV)

This Oracle, or divine revelation, that Habakkuk saw was foretelling the way in which God would use the Babylonians (Chaldeans) to judge Judah (the lower Kingdom of the ancient Israelites for a time) for its wickedness and violence.  It is in this passage where we see that God used an evil pagan nation to carry out His Will of punishment against the rebellious and destructive Judah.

It is a common thought to assume that God only works through good governments when we read about his involvement in the ancient Israelite governments, as well as when we read Romans 13 and apply it to our own government.   However, it is important to remember that both in this passage in Habakkuk, as well as in the passage in Romans 13, the writers were referring to God using pagan and ungodly nations to carry out His will.

The relevance of this passage to our discussion is that again, we see that God works through Government, and it is Just.  What is peculiar however, and what really aids in the discussion of this topic, is what happens in the next passage we will study.

Habakkuk 2:6-12

“6 Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own—for how long?— and loads himself with pledges!  7 Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble?  Then you will be spoil for them.  8 Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.  9 “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!  10 You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples;  you have forfeited your life. 11 For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond. 12 “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!(ESV)

The Lord revealed this to Habakkuk in response to Habakkuk’s complaint about Judah being punished by the Chaldeans, as seen in Habakkuk 1:12-17, in which he exclaims to the Lord:  “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13 – ESV).  The NKJV MacArthur Study Bible notes on this scene 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).” (pg.1319)

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 their wrongdoing, and likely, for their treatment of the people of Judah.  This idea is seen in the Exodus, which we studied before, as 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 for doing things as a result of God hardening their hearts.  For another example, Isaiah 10:5-19 speak of God using the Assyrians to carry out his wrath on godless nations, however, he then punishes them for boasting about their conquest.

The conclusion that we can draw from these examples is the repeated element throughout:  God’s blessing over battle, and killing, was essential for these battles to be won, or for these battles to bless the Israelites.

To apply this section to the thrust of my argument, even within this Old Testament understanding, I would not be willing to enter a military that would not have the special relationship with God like the ancient Israelites did (which rules out every modern government) because I would be expected and commanded to enter battles as they come up, without for sure knowing what the will of God is.  And even if I think that I know what the will of God is, I may only be acting on my own desires, as the Israelites did when they sought to take the promised land without the Lord’s blessing, as we studied in Deuteronomy 1:41-45.  Or even if it Is the Will of God for a nation to go to war and capture another nation, they still may be held accountable to God for their actions.  Therefore, to reiterate my point: as a Christian, in trusting God to carry out his Will, I would never want to align myself with a human institution that may force me to violate my allegiance to God.

The Canaanite Conquest

One of the most problematic scenes in the Old Testament is what is referred to as “the conquest of Canaan”, which was recorded predominantly in the book of Joshua.  In reading about the subject, many authors have expressed deep confusion and concern about this passage, choosing instead to call this scene “The Canaanite Genocide”.  

Preston Sprinkle struggles with this conflict in his book “Fight” when he says:

“The most glaring concern comes when the Old Testament sanctions wholesale slaughter of the Canaanites. Israel’s “warfare policy” has raised an ageless ethical problem for anyone who looks to the Old Testament for moral guidance.

For instance, God commands Israel to save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded. (Deut. 20: 16– 17; cf. 7: 1– 2)

God tells Israel to slaughter everyone living within the borders of the Promised Land. We have a term for this sort of thing. We call it genocide.” (Kindle Locations 465-471)

Deuteronomy 20:16-18

“16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God.(ESV)

Deuteronomy 20 serves as the initial instruction to the ancient Israelites on how they are to come to possess the promised land, which is carried out throughout the book of Joshua.  In this passage, The Lord commanded the Israelite people to destroy these pagan nations that were dwelling in the land that God had promised to Israel.  This passage is hard to honestly grapple with because God ordered the killing of whole people groups, which doesn’t seem to jive with the message of Jesus.

The traditional approach to this command is the true statement that these pagan nations would corrupt the newly freed Israelites who were still re-learning, or learning, about the one true God after being steeped in a powerful pagan culture for 400 years.  These ancient ancient Israelites were still heavily into idol worship, as seen in the creation of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32:1-6.  They even had the audacity to say of this newly created idol that “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” in verse 4.  Aaron, a main leader, even led them in offering sacrifices to the “god” that they had just created out of the gold jewelry that they had on hand.  To place this new and growing civilization in a land and culture that was just as steeped in paganism as Egypt, would more than likely quickly derail the Spiritual renewal that God was working through Moses to establish.

Eugene H. Merrill, in a book titled “Show them no Mercy: 4 views of God and Canaanite Genocide” which lets each author defend their approach on the matter, says the following:

“The option of making covenant with such people or undertaking marriage with them or even of showing mercy and sparing them for some other reason can never be entertained. They will induce Israel to follow their gods and embrace their abominable forms of worship (7:4). Instead, they and their worship apparatus must be exterminated (7:5). The introduction of Yahweh-war legislation so early in Deuteronomy can be explained by its near juxtaposition to the commandments to have no other gods and to desist from making and worshiping pagan idols (Deut. 5:7–10).” (Kindle Locations 1231-1235)

I cannot deny the truth of dramatic spiritual corruption, or possibly an annihilation of the ancient Israelites by the hand of these nations had God not intervened.   And while I struggle with the concept of God commissioning the slaying of so many, I cannot help but hope that if there was but one person who was redeemable, or who could be redeemed, that God would spare them.  We see this in how he spared Rahab the prostitute and the relatives within her house in Joshua 6:5, as well as when Abraham kept asking God if he would spare the righteous of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:27-33.  Yet still, though the canaanites must have been extraordinarily corrupt, they are human lives nonetheless.

The reason why I struggle with this specific scene from the Old Testament is because I have a New Testament understand of who God is.  As I have mentioned before, the Old Testament does not represent the perfect Will of God, but rather God working with His people at that time, under that Covenant, which was all about getting His people the land, and establishing them as a nation set apart from the world.   On this perspective, C.S Cowles wrote in “Show them no mercy”:

We cannot pretend, as we read these genocidal “texts of terror,” that Jesus has not come. In him we see the complete and undistorted “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). (Kindle Locations 1524-1525)

Therefore, Christ, being the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), as well as representing the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9), is the lens in which Christians should interpret Scripture’s application to their lives.  This implies of course that the Christian should follow the ways of Christ, and adhere to His teachings when they appear to conflict with these troublesome passages in the Old Testament.  John C. Maxwell contributes the following wisdom in his covering of Deuteronomy within “The Communicator’s Commentary” when conveying the use of war in Deut. 20, and warfare in general throughout the Old Testament by writing the following:

“In Deuteronomy 20, war is an instrument of divine policy; Israel could not have survived without it.  But war does not always have the stamp of divine approval.  Even in the Old Testament, David is denied the privilege of building the temple because his hands are stained with blood (1 Kings 5:3).  One of the features of the coming Messianic kingdom is the abolition of war (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3).  That our society today still resorts to war proves nothing except that men are terribly resistant to the grace of God.” (pg. 247)

War is not the perfect Will of God, and while nations may wage war, the Christian should live as an example of what’s to come in the Messianic Kingdom.  It is the Christian’s calling and responsibility to be counter-cultural when Christ calls them to go against the grain.

Conclusion

It is my hope that through the examples and arguments given, that I have handled the question of the Old Testament on this matter honestly.  I do not expect my handling of this chapter to be immediately satisfying to the reader, as this issue is incredibly complex, and has been discussed throughout Church History at various times, and with various unique views represented.  Nor do I view this work as the best contemporary work on the matter.  I merely hope to add to the growing resources that are advocating for a radical interpretation of Christ’s teachings of nonviolence.


Works Cited

Cowles, C. S.; Merrill, Eugene H.; Merrill, Eugene H.; Gard, Daniel L.; Gard, Daniel L.; Longman III, Tremper; Longman III, Tremper (2010-04-24). Show Them No Mercy: 4 Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Kindle Locations 1231-1235 , 1524-1525, ). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Henry, Matthew. “Deuteronomy 1:19-46.” Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary On The Whole Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997. 183. Print.

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

Maxwell, John C. “19.” The Communicator’s Commentary – Deuteronomy. Ed. Lloyd John. Ogilvie. Vol. 5. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1987. 247. Print.

Sprinkle, Preston (2013-08-01). Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Kindle Locations 465-471, 488-494). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

Redeemed Natures: Chapter Two – Addressing The Old Testament (Part 1 of 2)

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Addressing the Old Testament

(Part 1 of 2)

“Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”  Gen. 6:11 (ESV)

In nearly every instance where the subject of Christian Nonviolence/Pacifism is discussed or brought up, someone in the room has the understandable question: “What about all of the violence in the Old Testament?”.  Their question is reflective of a broader question, which is: how do we reconcile the call of Jesus to love our enemies with the call of God (the Father) in the Old Testament to slay them?

Before I go on, it is important to note that I do not believe that the Old Testament by itself teaches the ethics of non-violence as portrayed by Jesus, but I do believe that the Old Testament is heading in that direction, and because I believe Jesus is God, I interpret all Scripture through his message and teachings.  In his book “Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence”, evangelical pastor Preston Sprinkles says the following on the subject of how to address these hard differences between the Old Testament and the message of the New Testament:

“Not everything in the law was intended to embody God’s ideal ethic— His perfect way of doing things for all people of every age. The law, rather, was intended to meet the Israelites where they were and set them on the right path toward the ideal. Many laws given in Exodus through Deuteronomy, in fact, were not God’s ideal moral code— His Edenic ethic, if you will. Rather, they were glimpses of God’s ideal that would be revealed fully in Christ. In other words, the law of Moses was designed to guide a particular nation, living in a particular land, for a specific time and in a specific culture.  What we have in the law of Moses is a moral code that both accommodates to and improves upon the ethical systems of the surrounding nations.” (Sprinkle – Kindle locations 488-494)

As an example of his argument, Sprinkle uses the issues of polygamy, slavery, and divorce to show how God tolerated His people’s flawed views, but that He also worked to improve them, and how the new testament continues that transformation of culture.  However, as tempting as it would be to just say “Eh, different times, different revelations”, that still would leave too many stones unturned.  Sprinkle recognized this as well, and he did a good job in addressing the hard questions and passages surrounding this argument.

The purpose of this chapter is to attempt to communicate that while the Old Testament does not, by itself, support nonviolence, it does communicate the following: God’s perfect will as revealed in the Scriptures, the way God dealt with the Israelites back then and for that purpose,  instances where things were done that seem to be contrary to that perfect will, and it point us to the full revelation of the nonviolent ethic through Christ.  

I will break this chapter up into five segments:

  1. Starting at the beginning: Cain and Abel
  2. The Great Flood
  3. Egypt, Captivity, and Liberation
  4. God’s use of government to carry out His Will
  5. The Canaanite Conquest

Starting at the beginning: Cain and Abel

The Lord created the heavens and the earth… everything was created to be “good”.  God created a Man named Adam, a Woman named Eve, and they lived together in a perfect paradise of plentiful harvest, and they had the opportunity to live like this for the rest of their lives.  They only had to follow one rule: Do not eat the forbidden fruit.  But we all know the story…they ate the forbidden fruit.

This act of disobedience broke their chances of staying in this perfect paradise, and their punishments for eating the apparently tasty looking fruit made life harder for them.  But God did not break communion with them; He still desired to care for them, and to love them.

Later on in their story, they had two sons, Cain and Abel; Cain worked the fields, and Abel tended to the livestock.  These two desired a relationship with God as well, so they wanted to make an offering to Him of the best things in their respective responsibilities;  Cain brought some of his fruits and veggies, and Abel brought in the best animal he could.  (Gen. 4:3-7)

But Cain’s offering was not accepted…And this is where the fallen nature of man comes in; instead of being distraught that God did not accept this sacrifice, Cain became angry.  This anger is reflective of Cain’s heart at the time;  if Cain truly loved God, he would be upset with himself that his sacrifice was not accepted, and he would plead with God to show him what to do to make it right.   The motive behind his sacrifice must not have been pure, and this is most likely why the Lord did not accept his sacrifice.  And so, Cain’s focus turned to his brother as he became enraged that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted.  This then led to what we all know happened:  the first murder in human history happened when Cain killed Abel in a field out of jealously and rage (Gen. 4:8).

One would think that God would simply smite Cain for what he had done, and the situation would be resolved; after all, Adam and Eve did have many other Children (Gen. 5:3-4).  However, God doesn’t do this, but instead punishes Cain while letting him live:

“9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength. You shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.”  -Gen. 4:9-12 (ESV)

In this passage, God punished Cain by taking away the ease of his labor in working the ground; making it harder for Cain to do what Cain knew how to do best.  This would serve as a regular reminder of the wrong which he had done, along with the second punishment he received, which was for Cain to be seen as a fugitive, and for him to be a “wanderer on the earth”. We see in this punishment that God is neither a God who is unforgiving, or a God who never punishes those he loves; God recognizes the wrong, forgives the wrongdoer, but at that time before Christ, Cain had a real earthly punishment that he had to receive upon himself.

The story could end there, but it doesn’t.  God’s Grace extends even further past what we could imagine when the following conversation between Cain and God transpired:

“13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.” Gen. 4:13-15 ESV

We see here that not only did God spare Cain’s life, but He also protected it from others.  This is undeserved Grace in clear form, and it is in this that we see that although Cain took a life, and according to the Old Testament laws that would come later, he deserved death, God spared his life, and protected it; God boldly declared that even the life of a murderer was worth saving.  

God declared, in this instance, that retributional killing is against His perfect will.  It is in this example that we can see the perfect will of God apart from a culture that had been corrupted by generations of paganism and barbarism.

The Great Flood

I would like to briefly touch on the context surrounding the bible verse that I placed under the title for this chapter.  To refresh yourself, please read it again below:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” – Genesis 6:11 ESV

This verse is within the greater context of God becoming disgusted by the evil ways of man, and these ways included their use of violence.  Contrary to all of the rainbows and happy animals that we remember on the flannel-graphs of our Sunday school classrooms, the story of “Noah’s Ark” and the Flood is actually a pretty problematic story for the Christian to consider;  God was willing to kill all of the earth’s inhabitants, except for one family, in order to start over because he was disgusted by the corruption of humankind; their godlessness and their violence.  

Through the earth’s history, we have personally seen how violence begets violence, and how it consumes humanity with its enticing lure for revenge, but that revenge is never quite satisfying.  It is like when we were all children, and we do something to get back at someone if they wronged us, scared us, or whatever it is, and then that person somehow refuses to see that we are now “even”, and they retaliate back.  Violence is an enticing “cure” that never heals, and it can, in many instances, cause even more problems.  

God’s perfect will for the world and its people does include violence.  We see this with Cain, with the Great Flood, and in Revelation when violence is no more…it’s time that we Christians start acting like what God ultimately desires for us to act.  We have the Blueprints, we just keep pushing off the project until a later date…

Egypt, Captivity, and Liberation

Alright, I want everyone to get serious here:  Imagine that your people group has been in slavery for 400 years, and that you have seen the slashes and bruises on your relatives backs and bodies all of your life, and then suddenly, two guys named Moses and Aaron come along and basically tell you, “God told us to go to pharaoh and say “Let my People Go!”.

I feel like after all of that oppression, the Hebrew people desired more of a “bang” than two guys coming back and saying they’d ask Pharaoh, and when Pharaoh said no, God would intervene.  It is kind of like how the Israelites of the first century expected a militant messiah to free them from Rome, and then along came Jesus who had another motive.

In all seriousness, the story of the Exodus is very important in this topic because it informs us that God is more than capable of fighting for His people, and freeing them of their slavery without the need for them to take up arms themselves.  And while at other times, God used Israel in battle and conquest, in this instance, he chose not to.

Here are the plagues that God sent upon Egypt:

  • Water into Blood (Exodus 7:14-24)
  • Frog Infestation (Exodus 7:25 – 8:15)
  • Lice/Gnats/Fleas – depending on how its translated (Exodus 8:16-19)
  • Swarms of Flies (Exodus 8:20-32)
  • Diseased Livestock (Exodus 9:1-7)
  • Boils (Exodus 9:8-12)
  • Thunderstorms of Hail (Ex 9:13-35)
  • Locusts (Exodus 10:1-20)
  • Darkness (Exodus 10:21-29)
  • Death of the firstborn (Exodus 11:1 – 12:36)

At this point, it is important for the reader to note that each of these plagues were administered because Pharaoh refused the request of Moses and Aaron to let the Israelites go each time before each plague struck.  In knowing this, we should also look at the types of plagues poured out, and the order of them.

The first plague is in turning the water to blood.  This killed the fish and other aquatic life, and made a big stink, but otherwise, the Egyptians still had livestock and grain to keep them going.  The second, third, and forth plagues were more of a nuisance than a life altering event.  However, a great nuisance they were, and they got in the way of everyday life.

Starting at the fifth plague of diseased livestock, the plagues begin to become more drastic and life-altering, until finally with the tenth and final plague, God takes away the life from the firstborn of every family who did not have the blood of a lamb painted above their doors.  

FINALLY, Pharaoh lets the people go, and a short while later, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened again, and he ordered his men, chariots, and horsemen to chase after them to bring them back to Egypt.  The Lord put a pillar of cloud behind the Hebrews and the approaching Egyptians as He made a way for the Hebrews to cross the red sea on dry land.  The Egyptians followed, and in the morning, the Lord put a pillar of fire and cloud that caused the Egyptians to panic, and as the Hebrews were making their way across the floor of the sea, the waters came together again where the Egyptians were crossing, and the Egyptians, consumed with rage, perished in the sea. (Exodus 14:15-31)

Throughout the whole Exodus story, not a sword was raised by a Hebrew against an Egyptian…GOD freed the Hebrew people.  And this story not only communicates God’s capacity to work FOR his people, it also communicates God’s divine authority to take life from those who are defiant to His will.

Since I hold the position that I do in regards to believers of God taking life, it is easy to place myself in a box that doesn’t allow for God to take life, or administer justice violently…but I simply cannot do that if I am honestly reading the scriptures.  On this point, I could change my understanding (Lord knows that I would love to be able to write off divinely administered death), but for the moment, I stand in my statement that God has the authority to take life no matter how uncomfortable that makes me. However, even in this example, Pharaoh was given ample time and opportunity to let the Hebrew people go peaceably, and so the Grace of God shines through.  


All Works Cited from parts 1 &2 are posted at the end of part 2. 

Redeemed Natures: Chapter One – The Call for Justice

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The Call For Justice

“Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it completely.”  Proverbs 28:5 (ESV)

When we hear of, read about, or see a person being wrongfully treated, an anger builds up within us. And I would even go as far as to say that this anger over wrongful treatment of another human being, or animal, is a Righteous anger because I believe that this anger is a result of our godly call of upholding the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We want to fight for others because we have a sense within us of what is right/fair and what is NOT right/fair.  N.T. Wright, a well-regarded New Testament scholar and Christian author, even starts his book “Simply Christian” with a first chapter that is dedicated to proving just this; that humans have an innate sense of Justice, and how that sense comes from God.

It is in this understanding that we can understand how a Christian supporter of war would justify their position in stating that the military is fighting against and preventing further injustices, and that it may even be quite Christian to join the fight themselves.

I believe that to desire to act against injustice is Righteous; however, where I part ways with many is when I make the claim that any use of violence against another human being (no matter how “bad” they are), that is not blessed or commanded by God, is against how God calls the Christian to respond to their world.

To give you an insight into who I am, and how I come at things:  I was raised Mennonite, which is a tradition that has consistently advocated against Christians engaging in violence since its inception.  However, I am also a gun owner and I have handled rifles and shotguns ever since I was a young child under the careful supervision of my father who always taught me that guns are never toys, and that they are a tool used to help us hunt and provide for our families.  I own a shotgun now because I would like to get more into Deer Hunting (My area is Shotgun only), and I also have an itch to go for water fowl as well in the future.  I tell you these things so that you can know that I am not someone unfamiliar with guns, and I am not writing this post with the agenda to take away anyone else’s guns – this is NOT a political post…I am writing this post out of my devotion to Christ, and out of my discontent over how many of His followers do not bat an eye over the prospect of killing in War, Service, Self-Defense, or Intrusion.

I do not take this position out of ease, but out of a direct calling for me, the Christian, to FOLLOW Christ, and as a good friend reminded me of the other day – to be a SLAVE of Christ.  It is in recognizing that I am a SLAVE of Christ, that I am affirm that Christ is my Lord. This affirmation would naturally necessitate complete obedience in as much as I am able, and it would also place the call and Lordship of Christ over my life over all else.

But even in recognizing all of those things, even in carrying that logic through, I still am a man who wrestles with this very topic because my nature is one that would retaliate evil for evil if I saw injustice before my eyes.  This nature to retaliate with violence is not just my nature, but it is human nature, and I would also argue that it is our fallen nature.  In this understanding I derived the title of this project – Redeemed Natures, for our Natures need to be redeemed in order to make sense of NOT responding to violence with violence.

I would like to think that I would remain steadfast in my pacifistic confessions in the midst of trial, but no one knows for certain.  My only hope is that I would be able to resolve any given situation without killing anyone, and if I do not “fight” for non-violence NOW in the intellectual sense, how will I ever truly desire to go against that which comes naturally when the time comes when action is needed?

Before I go on, it is important for the reader to know that I hold the position I do because of careful study of the Scriptures, through engaging conversation with people of many beliefs, and through prayer.  I believe that the bible clearly says that murder/killing is wrong; not only within the Words and teachings of Jesus, or in the Ten Commandments, but all throughout scripture (I will expound on this later).  And to make the line even finer, I do not think that there is a difference between killing someone, and murdering someone; to kill is to murder, and to murder is to kill.  This is important because I have spoken with several people who would make the distinction when the duties of a government position calls for the use of violence. Their reasoning stems from Romans 13, in which the Government is allowed to “wage the sword” (We’ll get to that one later on as well).

A Glimpse of my argument from the Old Testament

Most of us know Christ’s famous words “turn the other cheek”, and “love your enemies”; however, we also know that the Israelites in the Old Testament were notorious for war, they were good at it, and that God even helped, and commended them in battle.  A quick read through the books of 1+2 Samuel, and 1+2 Kings will tell you all that you need to know about how God used the kings, prophets, and soldiers of the nation of Israel to carry out His will during those times. 

These truths are present in the Scriptures, and they are not to be ignored.  However, I have come to realize a pattern in the Old Testament in regards to warfare, which I will expound upon in more detail in the next chapter.  To provide you with a glimpse of the argument I will be presenting, I wish to provide you with this:

 

  1. The Lord is justified to take life
    • If anyone is justified to take a life on their own authority, it can only be God who is perfect in knowledge, and who has absolute authority over all creation.
  2. The Lord is justified to command others to take life
    • We see this in the Lord permitting, blessing, and commanding the Israelites to take life in war.
  3. Man who kills without the Lord’s command/Instruction/blessing will be punished because it is doing that which is outside of the Will of God. 

In Conclusion

I am simply a follower of Jesus who desires to share the message of Christian non-violence because I believe that we are commanded by God not to kill, and that that commandment extends to Christians in government, and it even extends to those messy situations where violence seems like the only hope.  I desire this message to spread because it is one of the most noticed yet overlooked commands and messages of Jesus, and I believe that Christians should take His word’s seriously.  In having this desire, I also realize that the people who are okay with Christian involvement in the military most likely do not hold the position that I advocate for, or are simply unaware of a consistent biblical argument for Christian non-violence that extends past an individual’s every day interactions. That is the purpose of this project: to humbly attempt to make a biblical case for my deeply held convictions addressed to an audience who may not have heard one.


Works Referenced

Wright, N. T. “Putting the World to Rights.” Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. 3-15. Print.