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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 in the common arguments for Christian Pacifism

Swords

(John 18:10-11)

10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

(Matt 26:52-54)

52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Pacifists indicate that Jesus’ teaching on pacifism is obvious and that arguing against them is just justification since we can all see His teachings to pacifism so clearly.

I know that the apostles never got Jesus.  They didn’t understand Him, it seems, at any turn. That could easily have happened here.

That being said, in three or so years, Peter had not picked up on Jesus’ “obvious” pacifist teachings… and continued to carry a sword, apparently without Jesus corrected him for doing so.  (see more on that below – Jesus had encouraged them to carry a couple of swords)

Jesus makes it clear that He could bring all of the violence He wanted at any point.  Angels apparently stand ready to bring about violence at the Father’s command; Jesus doesn’t personally need the help of someone like Peter if violence is called for.

Notice that Jesus gave the instruction “put your sword in your sheath.”  Not “throw your sword away” but “put your sword into your sheath.”  That seems like an odd thing for a devoted pacifist to say.

Luke 22:35-38

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

There are many different ways to seek to interpret and apply this one.

However, I think the least contortionist skills are required to just think that Jesus is encouraging them to be prepared to face random acts of violence from people and animals.  Traveling around the Middle East at that time was not safe (the good Samaritan story gives us a hint into this).

They had been safe while in His company but since He is going to be going away (when counted as and executed as a transgressor), they needed to take a little responsibility for their own safety.

Again, as then verse from Nehemiah at the very beginning of this article notes (4:9 “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.”), trusting in God to protect us is not necessarily in defiance or of in competition with the idea of taking responsibility for our own safety as well (remember the seat belt).

Only if you assume that violence is always wrong or that it is against the teachings of Jesus in advance of reading this passage does this not seem to be the simplest interpretation, in my opinion.

I will note that it is very plausible that this passage has nothing to do with self-defense or violence.  The apostles may have assumed Jesus meant physical swords, but He was referencing spiritual warfare.  As I said, there are many other ways to potentially interpret this passage.

I have no confidence that what I have offered is The Right One, but it makes sense to me as a valid potential as well.

They need some swords and a couple is enough while they are traveling together in these wildernesses.

Given that Jesus commanded them to get swords before telling Peter to put his back in his scabbard, it seems that the problem with Peter’s sword usage wasn’t that he had or was willing to use a sword, but that his timing – his application was bad.  He was missing the point.

But wait, there’s more…

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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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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.

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