Redeemed Natures: Appendix – Book Recommendations

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

Book Recommendations

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


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

Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence

-Preston Sprinkle, David C. Cook Publishing 2013.

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

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

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


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

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

-Brian Zahnd, David C. Cook Publishing 2014

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


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

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

John Howard Yoder, Brazos Press 2009

What Would You Do?

John Howard Yoder, Herald Press 2012

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

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


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

The Early Church on Killing:

A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment

Ronald J. Sider, Baker Academic 2012

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


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

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

Richard C. Anderson, Correlan Publications 1994

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


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

Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea

Mark Kurlansky, Modern Library 2009

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


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

Redeemed Natures: Chapter 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 1 of 3)

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Chapter Six

Nonviolence & The Early Church (Part 1 of 3)

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

– Tertullian, Apology. Chap. 37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Didache – 80-120 A.D.

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

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

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

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

Justin Martyr – 100 – 167 A.D.

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

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

First Apology

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

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

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

Second Apology

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

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

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

Dialogue with Trypho

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

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

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

Irenaeus – 130 – 202 A.D.

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

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

Against Heresies

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

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

Proof of the Apostolic Preaching

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

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

Tertullian – 160 – 225 A.D.

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

Apology

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

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

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

On Idolatry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter Five

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

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

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

On Romans 13

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

Romans 13:1-2

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

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

Romans 13:3-5

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

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

Romans 13:6-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Romans 13:8-10:

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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


Works Referenced (In Parts 1 & 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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