Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Christians and war (part five)

Today we look at a key and important passage in the Anabaptist understanding of Christians and war, Romans 12:9-13:7.

Before getting to the key New Testament passage on governing authorities we need to see the immediate context. Christians are told to be patient in affliction (12:12) and to bless those who persecute them (12:14). Then we get to an important passage on how we're to treat our enemies (12:17-21).

Paul makes it clear that we're to leave vengeance in God's hand, that we're to do good to our enemies as we read from the Lord in the gospels and that we're to overcome evil with good.

Then we come to the Romans 13:1-7 passage. An Anabaptist reading of this would be literal and literal maybe to a fault, though I don't think so based on the immediate context as well as the New Testament as a whole. The governing authorities and powers are established by God and called "servants of God" in their work. And this work involves bearing the sword to punish the wrongdoer, bringing on them God's wrath/judgment no less. When read in the context of Romans 12:17-21 we see an immediate answer to God's promise to avenge his people against their enemies.

The passage goes on to detail the relationship Christians are to have to the state. They're to submit to the authorities, pay taxes, respect, and honor them (13:5-7). Taken at face value the words don't seem to promote Christians participating in this work of the governing authorities. Does it necessarily exclude them from all governmental work? I strongly doubt it. But while this passage does not explicitly say Christians are not to be involved in the activities of the state as spelled out here, one can read in it an implicit denial of Christian involvement in this activity. It is a stretch to say Christians can be participants in this work since those so doing are serving God in it. That is an argument for the other side (one I used to accept and still respect). But it arguably is not letting the text simply say what it is saying.

What about governing authorities, the powers? And how should Christians relate to them? I see them as ordained by God for a fallen world. They are fallen as well and will be judged. But they are God's chosen means to bring order and peace (in the sense of holding down violence) so that God's work can go forward (I take it). To that end we're to pray for those in authority. And seek to promote the advance of the gospel, of God's kingdom work in bringing in the new creation in Jesus even in the here and now.

I plan to do another post on this tomorrow. That might end the series, though there may be one(?) more next week. Whatever discussion we may have may influence this.

How does this more Anabaptist reading of Romans 12 and 13 strike you? Or what would you add (or subtract) here?

No comments: