Blessed are the peacemakers…
A Short Introduction
If I may borrow from the language of Dickens, “There is no doubt that the Old Testament has passed. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing good can come of the truths I am going to relate”. The way God did things in the Old Testament are decidedly different from the way God interacts with man in the New Covenant. The writing of Hebrews distinctly informs us that “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds…”. It is disingenuous and self serving to cull out portions of the Old Testament and suggest that they are life patterns for followers of the Lord Jesus. The Old Testament Scriptures are mainly revelatory shadows that speak of the coming Christ. The horrific violence that took place in the Old Testament must remain a mystery, but it cannot be dragged into the gospel of grace.
Christ Himself laid out principles that helped us place the Old Testament in its rightful context. “You have heard it said…but I say unto you” is one of the teachings that awaken us to the superiority of the Words spoken by the Incarnate Christ, and they clearly indicate a difference. Abraham, Moses, and Solomon are just a few of the Old Testament figures to whom Christ openly claimed to be superior. I do not believe it is necessary to present a litany of things that God did in the Old Testament that are a mystery and outside our present understanding of God through the perfect prism of the Incarnation.
If you see the Old Testament dealings by God as a partial template for us today, well then you not only have carte blanche for almost any kind of violence and revenge, you have a colossal problem with the teachings of Jesus. The Old Testament must be seen as transitional and we must by faith trust that God in His wisdom was always moving toward Christ, even though many things were violent and without mercy. How could God do what He did in the Old Testament and yet now reveals Himself in Christ? As Hammerstein once observed, “Fools give you answers, wise men never try”.
So here we are, firmly planted in the New Covenant and with the perfect revelation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is His life and teachings that are foundational, and the recorded teachings of the apostles must be viewed as ancillary and a further unfolding of those same teachings. But let me suggest on the outset that any reading of all twenty-seven books of the New Testament in one continuous reading will present an overwhelmingly non-violent message. Give a New Testament to a brand new believer who has no nationalistic allegiances, place him for one year upon a secluded island, and after one year ask him if he sees Jesus’ teachings as supporting violence in any form.
So why do we as believers make allowances for violence, even violence on a massive scale when it comes to some scenarios upon this world? Again from Hammerstein,
You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
You've got to be taught from year to year,
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear,
you've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid, of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade, you've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late, before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate, you've got to be carefully taught!
Of course those words refer to racism, but the principle is the same. The reason we modern believers have made a space for violence in certain situations is because somewhere in the past decades the concept crept in and we have been taught the same since birth. Violence is appreciated and lauded in our western society and somehow the church has adopted that as well.
And let us be perfectly clear; nationalism and national allegiance alters everything we think about being followers of Jesus Christ. The church lives with divided loyalties and that dualism distorts our view of many things in Scripture and indeed dilutes the teachings of Jesus and makes them compatible, if not subservient, to the dictates of our national perspectives. Please do not think that non-violence will make sense in this present world, and many times if the teachings of Jesus do fit nicely into this western culture then they are bastardized versions.
It isn’t just our view of violence that has been diluted and made palatable to the church, it is almost all the teachings of Christ, which if we haven’t softened them to accommodate our western lifestyles, we teach them in purity but compromise them in practice. The teachings of Jesus are without question non-violent if we receive them according to the understanding of language. The only way we can suggest exceptions is to interject nationalism which is usually under the heading of “self defense”. The theory is that when it comes to self defense, either personal or national, violence can be God’s way in some situations. And I will readily admit that principle seems reasonable and even logical, especially when you project a spirit of restraint and using violence as a last resort.
For a moment, let us examine how the early believers thought and behaved. There are statements from the the Didache (AD 60-130), as well as from Ignatius (about 110) and Polycarp that have been used to support pacifism, however the statements are more direct warnings against hate than they are dealing with non-violence. Justin Martyr gives more substantive statements that seem to support non-violence, including, “We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness … have changed our warlike weapons – our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage.”
That still is not a significant treatise on pacifism. But there were many pagans in the first two centuries who castigated Christians for refusing to enter the military and for their pacifism as well as their allegiance to Christ at the expense of patriotism. The early Christian writer and theologian Tertullian, considered the father of the doctrine of the Trinity, taught that converts to Christ should immediately resign from the military. That was probably a mix of pacifism as well as a more clear manifestation of one’s allegiance. Origen, another early Christian theologian, wrote that Christians do not serve as magistrates or soldiers; rather they fight by prayer. They refuse public office in order to keep themselves "for a diviner and more necessary service … the salvation of men”. He did exhort prayers for soldiers that fight in a just cause. Augustine and Luther both accepted the notion of just wars. So to be accurate, the issue was a mixed bag.
However it is apparent that there were many believers who were unashamed pacifists. When Constantine comes upon the scene, he sees an apparition of the cross in the sky and interprets that in many ways. Two Constantinian interpretations are that God will be with believers in war, as well as his refining of the doctrine of anointed earthly empires. This teaching in several forms has continued until today. Most of American evangelicalism espouses the notion that God birthed the nation of America for a special purpose, in addition to the truth that God uses all things to accomplish His will. In short, the overwhelming majority of Christian schools teach that America was formed as a Christian nation and that patriotism is part of being a good Christian. Portraits of Washington, Jefferson, and others are common in evangelical schools, even though Washington was a slave owner and Jefferson was a heretic.
The concept of divine favoritism manifested in certain nations has pervaded the American church and over the many decades it has become an important tenant. Hidden and overt in this teaching is the acceptance of war and violence as God’s earthly instrument of justice. To be sure the nation of America has war and violence in its constitution and practice, but our mission is to compare that with the teachings of Christ. And the teachings of Jesus must have superior status and they must be authoritative over any and all other teachings and practices. This is difficult within a culture that thrives on viewing their nation as superior in many ways, including a tortured divine favored status. This is a short background and partial history of pacifism as viewed and practiced in Christianity. There are many teachers throughout church history who reject pacifism and teach different levels of divinely accepted violence and even war. But both sides must withstand the scrutiny of New Testament teachings. . I do want to express my appreciation for Chris Lyons allowing my point of view to be posted on his blog; his posts will be on my blog, and I also want to shred myself of any judgment of believers who sincerely disagree with my views. I believe there are very committed followers of Jesus who see things in this area differently than do I.
And now I am going to address my views as I understand and interpret Scripture. At the outset, in order to suggest that Jesus allows and supports violence of any kind, you must have a dual kingdom view. What I mean is that almost all believers who support certain kinds of violence due to circumstances, do so in the context of a national kingdom. These believers support war because they have an allegiance to a certain nation, usually the one in which they live.
In order to support some wars you must believe that some wars are “just”, or in other words, justified. And that view emanates from an earthly kingdom view that believes that God favors different nations, depending upon the war. This just war opinion must always be formulated through the conduit of second hand information and usually through secular sources that are almost always slanted by allegiance or political bias. So we receive information from a biased secular source through the television, magazines, the internet, and the general chit chat of public discourse. And wholly based upon that information, we are to form an opinion about the whether it is God’s will for men and women to die on both sides because the nature of the conflict is just, at least from our view?
It is true that governments have the power to punish criminals and declare war, but that should not be the business of God’s church. Let us not forget that we are the collective body of Jesus Christ and collectively we are to minister life through Christ to the uttermost parts of the world. When Jesus speaks about doing good to our enemies and blessing those who curse you, He never gave a caveat that suggested you could abrogate those commands if the nation in which you were living decided a war was necessary. That is the dualistic view of which I formerly mentioned.
Many believers will suggest a difference between murder and killing, and they will say that when God said “Thou shall not kill” that He meant murder. Of course to those who are murdered and to those who are killed the difference is moot – they are all dead. But again, the exception is made through a nationalistic prism, and in fact, if a believer has no allegiance to an earthly nation he cannot make that argument. The conundrum goes further when you realize that many times believers are killing believers in wars. Which side is God on in those cases?
I will openly admit that being a pacifist is revolutionary and radical, especially when you realize how culturally entrenched are our thoughts on the subject. I am 57 years old and I had never met or heard a pacifist until this last decade, although I know there were many. The conscientious objectors were the closest thing to pacifists I had ever known. And since becoming a believer in 1975, not only had I never met a Christian pacifist, I had only heard and believed that violence was sometimes God’s design to solve international disputes. The classic argument went something like this, “What would have happened if we had not stopped Hitler?”
There are a couple of things wrong with that theory. The foundational fissure for the believer is that we can never subscribe to the end justifies the means formula, and we must obey God outright without the thought of consequences. This applies in our personal lives as well. Along the same line, could it be possible that we missed an incredible opportunity to shine a light amidst great darkness? Sometimes the “what ifs” compromise a remarkable commitment to God’s Word.
The Hitler question also illuminates how we as believers have come to think. We think as Americans and many times not Christians. Because we are politically active, and because we salute the flag and say the pledge of allegiance, we have become Americans who happen to be Christians. We must think as followers of Jesus Christ, or at least aggressively attempt to think as one. There are many wars that have been fought since WW II and many wars continue today. Why are we not fighting in some of those wars since many people are being killed at the hands of evil aggressors? The reason is obvious – they are not killing us, which is a larger form of the American walking past the man who was robbed in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Do you see the unchristian and duplicitous nature of such things? In essence, let the Angolans die, it is not a national security issue for us.
I do not wish to belabor the point, I believe you can see my perspective. I will leave you with many passages of Scripture that when taken literally are in stark contrast to the nationalistic violence promoted by western evangelicals. I have yet to hear a believer who lives in American say that violence is approved in some cases, but his reasoning is not in any nationalistic vein. It is always tethered to nationalism, which is another deceptive compromise on many levels. But if we are followers and imitators of Jesus, we are presented with a mountain of teachings that fly in the face of what we have been taught. In this New Testament context, it seems to me that Jesus and His teachings are clear, albeit counter cultural, about how we should live among the darkness.
Many times Jesus did something that was astounding to His followers since it seemed to go against the vision that they had for the Jewish kingdom. You can read about an account in Matthew chapter eight when a Roman centurion, one who was over one hundred men, came to Jesus interceding for his sick servant. Now this soldier was part of the occupying Roman Empire which was one of the most brutal forces in any time. Jesus offered to go to this man’s house but the man refused because he considered Jesus a rabbi and felt it was inappropriate for Jesus to enter his home. It was a sign of respect.
Remember this man was the enemy of the nation of Israel and of God’s people, and he did not come to hear Jesus, he wanted something that would benefit him. He desired his servant to be healed. Jesus did heal the servant with His word, but he also made these interesting statements:
Matt.8:10 - When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
What? What kingdom did He mean when He said they would be cast out? And what kingdom would come from around the earth and sit down with Abraham? It doesn’t take much thought to realize that Christ was speaking prophetically about the coming kingdom living in the church. In the context of a “just war” the Jews would be justified in killing this centurion, but notice how he dealt with the earthly, nationalistic, and ethnic kingdom. Instead of directing the Jews to kill this enemy combatant, Jesus dealt with him in a supremely gracious way – He healed his servant.
This might have been the same servant that polished and took care of his sword and garments of war. So not only did Jesus not lead His followers to kill this aggressor, He indirectly helped that centurion in his mission to occupy Israel.
One man who followed the “just war” principle was Barabbas. He was active in a “just war” by being involved in attempting to overthrow Rome. And Barabbas had killed Romans and was described by Mark as a murderer. And yet, when one of Jesus’ followers attempted to murder a Roman, Jesus rebuked him.
Look no further than the Garden of Gethsemane in which Peter picked up a sword to defend Jesus and surely himself. Peter even cut off one soldier’s ear and Jesus healed this man who was a violent and butcherous tool of Rome. And Jesus addressed Peter with these words:
Matt.26:52-54 - Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
Although the words are couched within this unfolding redemptive event, the overall principle should be striking to us. Jesus indicates that He could provide enough power to kill them all, but God’s will is not accomplished by violence through His followers. In fact, to suggest God’s will can sometimes be accomplished through violence smacks of Islam. But in a spectacular paradox, the Prince of Peace presents Himself to the crosshairs of the Prince of Darkness, and Satan’s violence crucifies the sinless and passive Lamb, and redemption is accomplished and the violent king of demons is defeated through his own violence.
I Cor.2:7 - But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
Let me close with a listing of Scriptures that openly suggest humble pacifism that is self sacrificing and is in direct contrast to the human aggression that the church has surreptitiously united with the teachings of Christ. Perhaps the Spirit can lift your heart above the trappings of this world and you will be set free from the teachings of men.
Matt.5:9-12 - Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Matt.5:21-22 - Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Matt.5:38-39 - Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matt.5:43-48 - Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Matt.6:14-15 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matt.6:24-34 - No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Pre-emptive war is based on worry and fear that someone might attack first)
** All of the above Scriptures are taken from the Sermon on the Mount. Many evangelicals suggest that the truths in this sermon are abrogated and superseded by national interests and allegiances.
Jn.3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Mk.12:31 - Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these
Lk.6:27-33 - But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
II Tim.1:7 - For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. (Many times war arises out of fear)
I Thess.3:11-13 - Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
Rom.13:9-10 - For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
** The above Scriptures deal with love of the brethren, love of the lost, and love of your enemies. Again, many evangelicals suggest that these truths are abrogated and superseded when national interests and security are at stake. In essence, when it is convenient.
Rom.12:19-21 - Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
** The above Scripture outlines for us how to treat our enemies. But many evangelicals suggest that these commands are only applicable to certain enemies.
I Cor.4:11-13 - Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwellingplace; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
Phil.1:29 - For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;
** The above Scriptures provide for us an expectation of suffering and persecution. But many evangelicals believe that personal persecution should be endured gracefully, but that national persecution demands a violent response, approved by the same Lord that said the above Scriptures.
Either these Scriptures are to be taken literally and applied completely, or their application is to be decided by each individual as to the appropriateness of the situation, the superior jurisdiction of national interests, or just a general situational ethics template. No one fully adheres to the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, but if we limit their pervasiveness we categorically dilute and compromise the divine essence of their teaching and lower the obedience bar to a culturally convenient level. In short, you have created manageable suggestions and lofty sermon outlines that are far more storybook fiction than truth goals that factually represent the Person of Christ living through His followers.
There are many more New Testament Scriptures that clearly represent a pattern of non-violence and behavior that is counter culture, in fact, I could just print out the four gospels in their entirety. Does it seem odd that Paul commands us to suffer persecution for the cause of Christ without returning retribution but many churches teach retribution is God’s design for national persecution? And think on this: If a nation is allowed to go to a “just war” does that still include the support or participation of the followers of Jesus? Again it is imperative that one stakes out a nationalistic position in order to justify a violent Christian and to completely abrogate the clear teachings of the New Testament. Of course no such delineation was ever given in any of the 27 books of the New Testament.
So we are left with this: Are we Christians completely devoted to following and imitating Jesus Christ? Or are we followers of Jesus but somewhat under the direction of many unsaved and carnal men who dictate which wars to fight? We are to obey the law where it does not conflict with God’s Word, but how much allegiance do we owe any government? And if we owe the government allegiance, even to the point of killing for them, where does this allegiance come from? Do we borrow it from the reservoir of allegiance we have for Christ?
We are given no spiritual flexibility to compartmentalize certain aspects of the life of Jesus Christ as it is mirrored in our lives. The writer of Hebrews alludes to the divine communications through the Old Testament, but he openly reveals that in these days God speaks through Jesus Christ alone. Does the New Testament indicate a coming divine judgment upon this world? Yes, but that is God’s business alone while our calling is the gospel. To get entangled with the affairs of the kingdoms of this world, including the suggestion that it is God’s will for us, not only dilutes the power and distinctiveness of our Savior and His gospel, it has led to an unholy meshing that significantly clouds the real message of the gospel.
The same nationalism that blinded the Jews to the mission of the Messiah, has in many ways blinded the church in the same way. But, you ask, what will happen if we as believers withdraw from the systems of this world and America falls to her enemies? Well, we might just be forced to trust God completely, which in this culture, would be somewhat of a spiritual resurrection.
On 2/13/91 – Two stealth bombers flew to Almeria in the Bagdad suburbs and released two laser guided bombs at approximately 4:30 AM.. The bombs went down the ventilation shafts and went deep inside the bunker, just as planned. But over 400 civilians were sleeping in that bunker, many of them children, and most were killed. From every indication this was unintentional, but such is the nature of war which is resigned to "collateral damage", which is a sterile way of describing human carnage.
In the Old Testament kings went to war with their armies. Today kings watch their men and women die on flat screen televisions; even some kings who previously had maneuvered their way out of direct combat when their time came. In the end, even though God's involvement in violence before Christ seemed obvious, God did not allow King David to build the Temple since he was a man of war. Interesting, no?
If it is God's will to violently resist oppression then that is a direct indictment of a long line of martyrs who eschewed violence and willingly chose martyrdom. If it is God's will to espouse such allegiance to your country that you are willing to kill for it, then all believers should at some point be directly involved with the military. And the church in America should supply the Chinese church, the Venezuelan church, the Sudanese church, and all other churches living in oppressive regimes with arms that will help them violently overthrow their governments, just like America did the British.
If a man was being brutal and killing people in your community, would it be Christian to demand he stop or you would murder 100 innocent people in his neighborhood? That is exactly the construct of the attack on Hiroshima. There is little doubt that overall more lives would have been lost by an invasion, but is the “end justifies the means” the principle that believers should follow when it suits our needs? And are we to make "quantitative" choices concerning death?
Every teaching of Jesus runs counter to what nations do, and with that in mind who do we obey? Is it God's will that the Russian believer gives allegiance to his government while the American believer gives allegiance to his? Where can the unity of the Spirit be found when believers give their allegiance to different secular governments and are committed to kill each other to forward their particular government's cause? Can we lay aside the teachings of Jesus when your country calls? Everyone would say “No!”, which is why many have had to make exceptions to His teachings. I sincerely hope everyone would at least give a little thought to what I have shared regardless of how radical it may seem and how it is in direct conflict with what you considered “settled law” within your own heart and mind.