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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.

Character of God

I agree and yearn for the day when apparently predator/prey relationships of all kind are abolished.  I cannot wait for a day when the will of those I live for eternity with have no desire to sin, even if they are free to.  That day is coming.

There is coming an existence in which there is eventually no need for violence or predation, real competition, etc., at least not for creation.

However, this is not the peace of pacifism.  This is the peace of conquest.  Peace comes from God’s final subjugation of the enemies of creation.   “The Lord is a warrior” (Exodus 15:3)  In Isaiah 42, which is at least partially a prophetic passage generally accepted among Christians to be about Jesus, vs 13 says that

“The Lord will march out like a champion, like a warrior he will stir up his zeal; with a shout he will raise the battle cry and will triumph over his enemies.”

Almighty God is no pacifist.  Nor do I believe Jesus, as part of the Triune God, nor as proclaimed in prophecy, a pacifist.

I certainly do not think Satan would think of Him as one. As, in the last days, Jesus will defeat Satan in battle.

Further in the study of end-times prophecy, it seems that there will be a day for believers in which there will be no more sorrow, death, mourning, or pain, and God will wipe away their tears. (Revelation 21:4).  I believe that the Micah passage about an end to war is about that existence which Jesus Himself will usher in to place via this conquest (Micah 4:3, Isa 65:25, Isa 11:6).

That being said, this is not that existence.  We cannot usher in that existence by the way we act. It is not something that we can create on our own.

Here there is evil and predation, even among humans.

The Disney movie, Pocahontas, shows the title character dancing around in the forest proclaiming the peaceful nature of the animals and the web of life that connects them.  As she does this, she reaches into a bear’s den and takes out a cub.

Her philosophy might have some impression if people could do that for real.  However, when the mother bear crushed her into broken pieces, her beliefs might have been brought into question.

Declaring “peace, peace when there is no peace” in that way is delusional.

It is not common teaching among Christian pacifists that us being non-violent will lead to a non-violent world, but in some cases, the more liberal elements of this do teach this.  This is foolish, in my eyes… even if ones argues that Jesus was non-violent and led his students to practice non-violence, there was no indication that this would reduce suffering.

In that new existence someday, there will no longer be a need for humans to protect other humans from other humans.  There would be no call for self-defense (I use this term to apply to defending one’s own personal self and the well being of those we are responsible for).

Jesus was not human utopianist.

He is a heavenly one, but clearly did not hope for mankind to solve our own issues.  He was clear that there would be trouble (John 16:33) and persecution (John 15:19-20). He and His followers certainly were on the receiving end of violence.

In fact, the way that Jesus John 2:15 drove “them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen” (seeming to make clear that the “them” was someone other than the animals), sure makes it seem like any stance He had against violent behavior did not apply to Himself.

One can argue that Jesus wasn’t beating the men, sure… but there really isn’t any normal definition of “violent” that would not include driving people out with a whip of cords.

So, while the character of God in the past clearly involves violence and warfare, and Jesus was violent in His time on Earth, so too will His character be that of a warrior in the future.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.” Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.  Rev 19:11-21

Of course, it is part of God’s character to be an agent of peace – as well as to be a warrior (peace and war are not contradictory). But the pacifist is making the claim that we only follow the example of God’s character as peacemaker.

So, the pacifist is defending the claim that God is calling on us to live in a way differently than His character.

This is NOT impossible – an example of this is that it is morally right for God to be jealous, but not for us to be. Obviously, it is appropriate for God to accept worship, but not us.  That makes sense.  However, these have to be explained – especially when God (back in the Genesis passage with Noah) has commanded man, under certain conditions, to shed the blood of man.

Head on to Part III to summarize what that burden is.

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!

As a counselor and a pastor… and as man, rites of passages are very important to me.

Throughout history and across people groups, rites of passages have been culturally vital ways to communicate to members of the community that they are taking on a new role within that community – boy to man, worker to leader, girl to woman, servant to warrior, etc.

The medieval noble families moved their sons from children to page around age 7, from page to squire around age 14 and from squire to knight around 21. The Massai tribes “capture” the boys from the women’s side of the village and declare them men and then train them to kill a lion; when they kill the lion they move from “runner” to “warrior.”

Today in America, we have essentially nothing cultural that communicates when a boy is accepted generally as a man.   The consequence? We have hundreds of thousands of males who are not confident that they are a man. The boy looks around and sees those he thinks of as men, but none of those men are making it clear that they think of him as a man… and many of those “men” doubt it deeply about themselves as well. Where can we find them? One option is to look outdoors.

I remember helping my father pile firewood in the wheelbarrow. I was there with him. He dropped the tree, cut it up, split it, loaded and hauled it, and stacked it. Probably around age 4, I was helping him to some loading. Then one year he had me push the wheelbarrow full of firewood (and incidentally, nothing will teach someone temper control like a one-wheeled wheelbarrow, right?).

Then one year he handed me a splitting maul and had me start splitting. I knew my father saw me differently. Maybe not a man, but not a boy anymore either.

He saw me as responsible, wise and strong enough for the edge.

And then, around age 17, he handed me the eye and hearing protection and with no preamble, talked me through using the chainsaw. I spent that day with him training me on various cuts and techniques (my father was a forestry professor). I went to be knowing that night that my father thought of me as, to an important degree, a man.

… but the message was plenty clear. In fact, I remember my father referring to an adult male the he apparently thought of as “less than a man” with the phrase “I wouldn’t trust that guy with a chainsaw.”

In the ancient Hebrew scriptures, in Deuteronomy chapter 6:7, the men of Israel are instructed to teach their children the truths of God not just a few hours one morning a week… but all the time…  “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” [1]

We cannot relegate these vital truths of life and death, God and Christ, sin and redemption, love and sacrifice, temptation and forgiveness to the voice any other man, even if he is our pastor. We, as fathers, must remember that responsibility still lies with us.

When, in today’s nonstop busy world with buzzing phones, are we centered and quiet enough to talk to our children about these things that really matter?

Over logs being tossed into a wheelbarrow, and after that wheelbarrow, despite the boy’s best effort, has tipped and dumped the whole load… or find the activity you can engage with, adding with intentionality to your child’s responsibilities, and talk.

These are when these conversations can happen without feeling awkward and forced. These are when the world’s problems are solved. These are when our sons might know that they are men. This is when our kids can hear that we are proud of them for no other reason than the truth that they are our children, even without words sometimes. This is when our children might know that they are, ultimately, not ours, but God’s.

In an effort to help us men out, I have created “The Gauntlet – A study that works even for busy dads and sons along the Deut 6 model.” To learn more or to find out how to purchase one, look at the resource page or email at chrismlegg@gmail.com.

How I handle these rites in my family might offer some ideas as well.

I also have done a rite of passage for an adult man that has some fun ideas in it.

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

 

Hermeneutics

Here we have a very simple look at a topic that all too few Christians understand.

No, not Herman… or even the study of Hermans.

It is the art and science of studying The Holy Bible (and I suppose other holy books as well).  It is called “Hermeneutics” after the Greek god “Hermes” – the messenger of the gods.

There are dozens of different ways that people create a process for good hermeneutics, but the general principles are typically very similar. I like the words that Dr. Howard Hendrix used:

  1. Observation
  2. Interpretation
  3. Application

Observation

Again, in simple terms, “observation” is engaging with what is on the page.  This is the who, what, when, where and how.  It involves context, imagination, and details.

This step is vital and can take the most time, and it is often the most overlooked.

Check out the account in Mark 40:35-41 of Jesus calming the Sea of Galilee. 

Who is in the account?  Jesus, the disciples, and other boats on the Sea are there.

Jesus is sleeping.  It is in the evening and likely dark.  Did you ever picture this account as being in the dark, with other boats around (I didn’t find a single piece of art with multiple boats in the painting)?  Perhaps not. That is the cost of not observing well.

Interpretation

This involves understanding the author’s original intent. In order to do this, one needs to examine cultural setting, audience, literary genre, etc.

This is a dangerous step.  Here is the temptation to read our own meeting onto the material – to find what we want to find, not what we find.

This is the danger of exegesis versus eisegesis.

Engaging exegetically in scripture means to seek, as honestly as we possibly can, to ask what the passage and the author originally intended… what does it actually say to us?

So often, we decide what we think and then we go to scripture to find defense for our views (this is often also called “proof texting”). This is called “eisegesis”.

As a psychologist, I know that none of us are capable of fully removing our preconceived notions, but we have to do our best to do so.  This is especially true when we are looking to the Bible to talk to us about something that is dear to us!

My most recent posts were about the roles of women in leadership and service roles in the Church.  I am about to publish a series about the place for self-defense in the life of a Christian, as I understand it.  I have written articles on premarital sex, homosexuality, marijuana usage and tattoos (among others) and tried to bring what I see in the Bible to bear in those topics and others.

I admit that it is hard to do my best to remove from my thinking my preconceived ideas for each of these!  Ok, so it is actually impossible for us to completely divorce our thoughts from our previous views.  However, it is seriously incumbent upon us to seek to do so our very best.  Anyone who says this is easy must be delusional… or lying… or I guess, so different from most of us that I cannot comprehend it.

However, as with the self-defense one, I spent most of a year reading books, studying scripture and talking to various people with various views before coming to a conclusion.  I pledged to God that I was prepared to put aside all ideas that I felt I had about defending my family and myself if I was convinced that His Word called for pacifism.

Once we are convinced that we have a good understanding of what the original author intended, then we are able to grasp what cosmic truths are in the scripture.  What are the eternal ideas that we find there?  What, if anything transcends the era, culture, people, etc. in which the words are seated?

If there is anything, we can bring that Truth forward into modern time.  Once we do, there is just one step left.

Application

Application is nothing more than the process to take those truths and make them real in our own lives – as guided by God’s Living Spirit in our lives.

It is this Spirit that illuminates the very Bible that He also inspired.

This Spirit is what makes the Word of God “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).  This is not a musty old, outdated religious book.  It is God’s revealing to us about Himself and ourselves.

Once we know what we ought to do (or not do), we must submit.  This final step is sometimes the hardest for our rebellious souls.  We don’t like the answers we come to, so we do what we want instead.

Are you having a crisis of faith?

Likely there is behavior that you want to engage in that you think the Bible forbids… or maybe there is just a mindset – what the Bible labels as sin or goodness or purity, that you don’t want to agree with.

So something must go:  your way of thinking and acting or what you believe.

For more about this, check out  https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/bible-study/howard-hendricks-4-bible-study-steps.html