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Archive for the ‘Bible Questions’ Category

So,

Actual Final Words

Again, in this case, I am not arguing against pacifism at the “personal conviction” level.  Of course, any human might determine that it is wrong for them to engage in almost kind of activity; examples might include sex, gambling, drinking alcohol, smoking, reading certain books, etc – that may be completely permitted (or at least not condemned) scripturally, but that a Christian might decide to refrain from for personal conviction…

Or even things that are otherwise considered to be blessings biblically, like marriage, can be eschewed based on personal conviction – consider the Apostle Paul and Jesus both in that regard.

Naturally, it is likely that violence is another of these. Anyone who believes that they, personally, should not engage in anything violent, is probably able to justify that decision scripturally.  As I mentioned, someday, I may see if I can make an argument against that, but this is not that time.

Pacifism proclaimed as morally right for everyone, or even any certain population (Christians in this era) is a different matter.  My conclusion at this point is that it must be attached to a more ultimate standard.  For the Christian, that standard is the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture.  I do not see that the Christian pacifist is able to bear the burdens I have listed in these articles scripturally, in order to call for all Christ-followers to be completely non-violent.

That being said, I want to ask for blessings on those in Christian history who have been willing to push back against cultures defined by their violence!   Blessing on those who refused for fight for and swear to other gods.  Thank God for Christians who have pushed against the gates of Hell when it meant pushing against the cultural norms.

Thanks to Christians who have been willing to die for peace.  I mean to honor them by engaging with these passages with a sincere heart.  I pray that I am interpreting these passages in a way that honors Jesus Christ whose they are.  I am well aware that I could be wrong about this.  I don’t think so, obviously, but as always, I rely on God’s Spirit to enlighten us to Truth and on the Grace of God to restore whatever I do mess up here.

 

I appreciate your feedback, positive or negative.

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Working Towards Final Words

Matt 5:39-42

39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

The ethic of scripture is one of the willingness to suffer for what is right.

The model is Jesus and of scripture in general is one of patience, longsuffering, and gentleness.

Let’s look at gentleness a little.

I have thought for many years that gentleness is best defined as “to use the least force necessary.”

Imagine a nurse setting a bone.

To use too much force is brutal and unnecessarily painful.  You may damage this person.

To use too little force is weak and cruel.  You may cripple this person.

We correctly understand God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as gentle.

He is willing to create pain in us if it is what we need. He disciplines.  He prunes.  He casts down.

In the same way, causing pain in others is a part of doing good in their lives and in the lives of others (even a fool can learn from the punishment of the scoffer (Prov 19:25, 21:11)).

In this passage, is Jesus intending to indicate that the ONLY way Christians can respond to any form of aggression is with non-violence, no matter what the action is?

Does He intend to say that a father should allow his daughter to be raped?  Does He intend to say that we should he offer his other daughter too?  Does that pattern apply to every behavior?

Or (as I think is the case) is He referencing the more specific behaviors that He lists here?  Is this passage about having no boundaries with others about their abuse of us or is He talking about us going generously above and beyond the normal bounds that what is required?

The law requires you to do what is legally required, but also to be more generous than that.   I cannot see how He mean to teach us that it is always wrong to cause harm in response to the condition or behavior of another.

Again, being gentle is exceptional in any culture. Being sacrificial is always exceptional. Helping others, even if it is through a painful process.  Can Christians be in roles that create pain or discomfort?

Can Christians be surgeons?  They definitely harm to protect.  Can Christians be parents?  The child will feel mistreated in the parent’s efforts to grow them.  Can a Christian be a policeman?  Can a Christian be a soldier?  Obviously creating harm cannot be the ethical line, so is there one?

Can someone who may take life follow the Christian ethic? Fortunately, a powerful Christian leader taught a little bit on that.

In Luke 3, crowds and then a tax collector and then a soldier ask John The Baptist about how to live an ethical life.  John answers the soldier:

Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”(Luke 3:14)

John has a perfect opportunity here to make it clear that it is unethical to be a soldier.  But he doesn’t.  Instead, John tells them to make ethical corrections within their career as soldiers.  He points them to unrighteous behavior that a soldier could commit.

It would be wrong for a soldier to extort money.  Why didn’t John say “Don’t be a soldier.” or even “Yeah, don’t commit violence.”?

Don’t reference that John would have been intimidated.  John wasn’t afraid to say what he believed was right; it got him killed.  Why not tell these soldiers?

What is a culture like when, by definition, there are no Christian police officers – not even ones that have a Christian ethic at all? What happens to a culture when soldiers, security guards, and others who might have to cause harm and take life, are not allowed to have an ethic that sees life as treasure & something to be honored?

I want anyone with the authority to take life – judges, police, soldiers, senators, presidents, or who just have regular decisions about life and death, to be Christ followers and God fearers!

There is also an ugly version of hypocrisy here, in my opinion.

I grew up in the 1980’s and tape-burning events were pretty popular.  About once a year, a youth group in town, or a camp would host an event in which a speaker would encourage us to get the inappropriate music out of our collections. For some speakers, it was anything with a drum or rhythm (not kidding).  However, when students were inspired to follow through, there was sometimes a time for burning the items.  What I also remember is that some kids decided that the money invested was too much to lose, so they sold the tapes.

They decided that it was wrong to have and listen to these songs, but then sold them to other people.

I think that is similar to the hypocrisy of the pacifist view. In this case, I am not talking about those who say pacifism is merely their own personal conviction, but those who say that all Christians should be.

It reminds me of the liberal gun-control activists who hire armed security guards to defend them… this is extreme hypocrisy.

It is not right to ask others to sin in an effort to keep you from sinning.  If you do not think any violence can be right or if you think that it is morally wrong to kill, then you had better not call the police when someone breaks into your house.

You had better not hide behind anyone else’s gun.

In a speech in 1945, entitled “Notes on Nationalism,” George Orwell said that a thought that pacifists cannot accept even in their own thoughts is that  “Those who abjure violence can do so only because others are committing violence on their behalf…”

Final part next – actual final words

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Continuing to Engage with the Biblical Arguments for Pacifism

Don’t fear death

This argument, based on Matt 10:28 (“do not fear those who kill the body…”), says that Christians should not defend themselves because of what Jesus teaches here about us not “fearing death.”

Here in the midst of Jesus’ instructions to His Apostles before He sends them out, I think it is clear that Jesus is talking about the fear of persecution and wellness, not random violence or personal assault. Examine the verses immediately preceding:

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. 26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

It is an exaggeration to say that to seek to avoid death is the same as “to trust in violence more than God.”  This is not the same thing.  I can choose to not fear death but still try to keep my cholesterol down, wear my seatbelt, etc.  I can not fear death and still harm someone trying to harm me or a loved one.

In fact, I have never had to do it, but I am guessing that when a police officer or a soldier charge toward gunfire, they are choosing to “not fear death” as they race to potentially take the life of another.

Persecution

I already take the stance that it is probably an error and could be sinful for a Christian to resist or fight back to avoid persecution.  There are too many places where Jesus seems to be instructing Christians to accept persecution as normal and will even be rewarded, for us think that fighting back against persecution is the appropriate choice.  (2 Cor 4:8-12, I Peter 4:12-16, John 15:18-21, Matt 5:12, Mark 13:9, I Cor 4:12, and most poignantly, John 18:36-37).

Side note.  Taking a quick glance at John 18:36 shows Jesus claiming that if His Kingdom was of this world, Jesus says that HIS followers would have been fighting if it were a kingdom of this world.  It sounds like maybe the principle of people fighting for their earthly kingdoms might be appropriate.  I have never seen this connected to the question of Christians being soldiers, but I think it might apply.

There are many passages that indicate that even though our citizenship is in heaven, that we are also part of an earthly government (Romans 13, I Peter 2:13-17).

The example of Jesus

In the examples of the gospels and in I Peter 2:21, Jesus does not fight back when He is being executed and that is an example for us.   This is often used as an argument against violence.  I agree that in the case of direct persecution, especially by the governing authorities, it is probably wrong for the Christian to fight back.

However, keep in mind that following this example would also mean not speaking up in court to defend ourselves against persecution.   He didn’t just not destroy everyone in those situations, but He kept His mouth closed (except to get Himself convicted).

I have not found that example encouraged anywhere so far.

The 1 Peter passage actually says that Jesus was leaving us an example:

 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.  I Peter 2:21-23

However, the emphasis here seems to be on suffering, especially persecution – not really about when or where or how fighting back would make sense in a general sense.  The passage has built through enduring sorrow, even while suffering unjustly.

Part VI

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The Arguments

So, we examine the passages used to defend Christian Pacifism.

So, let me make clear, I am not at all saying that killing is always right (even in times of war, execution or self defense), but am just making the case that it CAN be right.  I am not going to try to make the case that modern followers of Jesus are RESPONSIBLE to be willing to be violent.  Maybe someday I will try and see if that case can be made.

For now, I am only going to defend the ethic that honest, devoted followers of Christ ARE NOT required to AVOID violence at any cost.

We must be very careful when we look at scripture in these conversations.  Agenda driven people often handle passages poorly or in such a way that defends their views.  I pray that I do not do this… I will strive not to do this, but have been saddened to run into multiple places where words are redefined or scripture referenced as saying thing that it does not say.  In many of the books and articles I have read on this topic I run into passages that I have to think the author knows are not appropriate or at least not used appropriately.

These are some of the most common arguments made:

Loving enemies

Matt 22:34-40 – “love your neighbor”

Matt 5:44-45 – “love your enemies”

Luke 6:35-36 – “love your enemies”

These passages are about loving people – neighbors and enemies.  The presumption here is that violence would never be appropriate with people we love. This is patently absurd.  I could easily be forced to tackle a child who is about to step in front of a car… if my child became a murderer, might I have to kill him to prevent him from killing his own mother or younger sibling?  I imagine this has actually happened before to someone.

I would love my son the entire time.

I also think I could potentially be doing it in the Name of Jesus Christ.  I think I could protect a child by killing a predator in the Name of Jesus.

I consider this, in fact, the ultimate question of all Christian ethics.  Can I do this thing in the Name of Jesus Christ (Col 3:17).  Most behaviors can certainly be done in NOT in the Name of Jesus Christ (including killing or harming) but I also think that most behaviors can be done in the Name of Jesus Christ.

False dichotomies

“Do not return evil for evil” (I Peter 3:9, Rom 12:17, I Thess 5:15)…but is violence evil – at least necessarily evil?   That is the exact case that the pacifist must make!  It is not presumed.

It is circular argument for the pacifist to cite these passages and say that we should never be violent because violence is evil and this passage says not to be evil…

The passage in Romans 12:17 continues, by the way…

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Isn’t it fair to say that God was overcoming evil with goodwhen He sends in His people to destroy the evil Canaanite culture?

This is the same argument as above.  It is still the pacifist who has to make the case that violence cannotbe good and that violence is evil.  It seems like there would be many examples of evil being overcome with good being somewhat violent  – or at least feeling that way to the evil!

What about the vengeance wording (like Rom 12:19)?

In another example of this, I assume that vengeance could be overcoming evil with good, since it is God who avenges (Rom 12:19, Heb 10:30, Dt 32:35), and He overcomes evil with good.  The problem apparently isn’t that vengeance is morally wrong (or God wouldn’t avenge); the problem is that humans lack the insight to know the right way to go about it.   So, again, this isn’t a command against evil, but specifically against revenge.

Whether violence is evil is the exact burden that the pacifist must carry across the finish line.  They cannot start with that assumption and then apply scripture that way.

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The Description of Government

Further, the Christian pacifist needs to explain why it is apparently morally responsible for governments to engage in the violence of being “an avenger who bring wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:4) in God’s eyes and that Christians are to subject themselves to that government – that to resist the government is to resist God!  See also I Peter 2:13-14.

Note that I am not saying that Christians are to obey the government at all times (the Christian ethic is always to obey the Highest Authority when there is conflict between the instruction of multiple authority figures), nor do I think that this passage is teaching that everything governments do is morally right.  However, this passage seems to indicate that this is God’s job description for governments. He wants them to approve of God and “bear the sword” against those who do wrong.

This is also New Testament.

Clearly God Himself did not become non-violent in the New Covenant.   At least in the case of governments, He still (as in the Hebrew Scriptures), at least some of the time, approves of violence.  After all, this is a God who will cast many into a Lake of Fire and Who expresses in His Word that the nature of Spiritual life is analogous to war.

The Burden

So,in my opinion, the only case to be made by the Christian pacifist cannot be “that it is morally wrong to be violent or to kill.” There is no absolute stance against violence or killing.  God kills. In the past, God has instructed man to kill.  In the future, God will continue to vanquish and destroy.  I consider these established biblically.  I have yet to see anyone really take issue with them with anything approaching a valuable argument.

The only ethic for general Christian pacifism, then, has to be limited to:

“It is morally wrong for followers of Jesus Christ to commit violence in this era of existence.”

Given the Hebrew scriptures, apparently God is of the opinion that there is a time to kill and destroy; there are times when killing is the morally right thing to do… and there are times to refrain from violence at all; there are times when not being violent is the morally right thing to do. Consider how men of war are recognized and honored by God and morally upstanding men in the Old Testament; in an appropriate way, war and killing in a combat situation has its place.

So, this argument must be made for a specific audience, to a certain degree at a specific time.   Everything else fails before it starts.

Further, in order to do more than just express their own personal views or conviction, the pacifist must argue that this ethic is right for ALL of that human population or at minimum for ALL of that subset (Christ-followers).  Otherwise, this is just a question of personal conviction.

I am willing to concede for the time being the argument of personal conviction.  I accept that it may be morally right for an individual to believe that what God wants for them is to be a pacifist.

I am not engaging in this in order to argue that every Christ follower should prepare to defend themselves and to be willing to defend themselves and those they are responsible for (at least not yet).

Further, it needs to be shown that this ethic is for here and now.

And, I am willing to accept that there could be layers of pacifism – or various standards within it.  One pacifist might determine that only killing is sin, but harming is not. Another might determine that physical violence of any kind is sin.

Each must be able to make a convincing case that in today’s world, that whatever behavior he or she is forbidding, is immoral for their audience.

“It is morally wrong for Christ followers of this era to engage… in any violent act for any reason.”

Or

“… in any violent act against another human being for any reason.”

Or

“… in any act intending to kill another human being for any reason.”

Though I mentioned natural law, I am engaging with this question as a Christian, so I will be engaging with the Holy Bible and perhaps other Christian ethics as to this question.

As I have continued to research this and look into this and prepare this, I am fascinated at the argument that the pacifist must make! They have to claim that something very significant has very significantly changed in the way God wants His followers to engage with each other!

Let me note that, of course, the teaching against murder is clear all through scripture.  Murder would be the unjusttaking of human life.

The pacifist argument cannot just be about unjust assault or murder.  That it also forbidden all through scripture and everyone knows it.

The pacifist argument has to defend the idea that hurting others is wrong, even if they are hurting you or others – even if they are committing unjust assault or murder.  Hurting, or perhaps at least that killing, as committed by some group, is always wrong.

Continuing on… I am going to engage with the main biblical arguments for pacifism.

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Nehemiah 4:9

And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.”

In debate, there is a focal point of debates called “burden.” I am starting this conversation with what I see to be the burden of the Christian pacifist.  I will warn you, this part isn’t short.  Neither is the rest of it.

Natural Law

(“The doctrine that human affairs should be governed by ethical principles that are part of the very nature of things and that can be understood by reason”– Dictionary.com)

First off, I think it is important to note that the fail safe or default stance on self-defense should be that all human beings have the natural freedom to defend their own life and the lives of those they are responsible for.

In other words, if there were no scripture or ethic to the contrary, humans would, by natural law, be entitled (and perhaps responsible in some cases) to harm or kill an animal or another human in defense of himself or herself.

I do not know for sure if this is agreed upon, since I have rarely seen anyone start the conversation this far back, but I believe it should be.  I don’t put a lot of emphasis on natural law typically.  Here, I am merely mentioning it to indicate that it is “natural” for created beings to defend themselves.

Children fight back; animals fight back; created beings fight back as instinct, and the right to defend one’s own life and well-being as well as the responsibility to protect the weaker, has been considered a God-given right.

So, the burden is on the pacifist to show that for some reason, humans or some subset of humans, are responsible to refuse to defend themselves or others.

God’s Instructions

One thing that a Christian has to be able to argue is that something has radically changed between the ethic of violence in the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

God directly instructs violence, executions, and killing in warfare regularly.  Clearly, any directive against violence represents a change in the ethic that God calls His people to.  Anyone who wants to debate this topic as a Christian must concede this.

After God has destroyed much of the human race, as is His right, He declares the ethic for how mankind engages with violence against other humans.  This is not a Jewish law, or a Levitical rule.  This is not just about governments, since there were none in place. God’s ethic for violence against humans was a violent response by other humans.

Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image.

Genesis 9:6

I want to make clear that this is a teaching from God to the race of mankind.  This is God’s presented ethic about the very topic of human-on-human violence.  There will need to be a teaching of Jesus that changes this ethic if it is to be argued that the new ethic for all Christians is one of non-violence.

I think there is no time needed for defenders of Christian pacifism to attempt to make case from the Hebrew Scriptures.  What is required of them is to show that God has changed His mind on this in regards to His followers at the incarnation or teaching or death or burial or resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And the argument cannot just be from silence. As mentioned above, both natural law and direct instruction from Almighty God calls for man to respond to violence with violence.

Just getting started!

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Conclusion

Perhaps a healthy thought would be to consider that like Priscilla in Acts 18:26, that the church’s best interest is served when men and women serve and even guide and lead together. Certainly, even if a team of men or a man lead a church, their wives and the women in other roles of leadership and ministry are co-ministers with them!

Perhaps if we were all healthier, we wouldn’t be as concerned as we get about who gets what role… and if women should not be in some role, or men, then we would all be happy about the roles that others get since we love them as much or more than ourselves.

Given that the instructions of Christ was that among His followers, the leader is the servant, it is vital that no one – male or female – would see leadership as their due – that they are somehow entitled to lead in Christ’s Church.

Some interpret I Timothy 2:11-15 as less about gender and more about the usurpation of authority.   I don’t necessarily agree with that conclusion, but I am confident that it is a good minimum application. That matches with Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10,

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   Mark 10:42-45

So, I hope the case has been made that I intended. Our church, which is led by a team of leaders, which is chaired by the Lead Pastor, does allow women on that team and also encourages women to be deacons… and could have a woman on staff whose title included the word “pastor”.

My goal isn’t to indicate that this is the only right or even best interpretation of all of these passages – but that it is an acceptable one while staying true to scripture.

I know that the width of my understanding could be wider than Paul (or the Holy Spirit) intends – though I pray not.

However, obviously I don’t think so, and those who made this decision for our church think the same. If I created my own church from the ground up according to my own preferred interpretations and applications, perhaps I would do a few things differently – however, these are easy places to submit to those who came in authority before me here.

Also, my general tendency is to seek freedom in the application of scripture… when the application is unclear.  I admit this is my bias.  So, when there are multiple biblically sound Christ-deferring possible interpretations, I like to default to less restrictive rather than more restrictive, so I can appreciate that aspect of this understanding as well.

To learn more about the church I am referencing, check out www.southspring.org

 

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