Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Christians and war (part seven)

It is important in trying to decipher what we should do as Jesus followers and salt and light in this world, to remember that we are resurrection people of the new creation, who are now, not only experiencing the future age in the present, but are to bring all of this to impact the present.

We're not simply here to "get saved" then wait for Jesus to come and make everything right and new. That's not enough. We're here to bring something of this rightness and newness in Christ from the incoming kingdom of God, here and now. Do we really believe this? And if not, why not?

A couple of key passages in the prophets giving us a vision of God's future can help us understand both what we need to be living out as God's people in community, and what we need to be speaking prophetically to the world.

The first one is from Isaiah 11:
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
The second is from Micah 4:
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
I believe this is fulfilled completely in the age to come. But in the present there must be some fulfillment as well. Christ didn't come only to redeem individual "souls" and then burn up the earth afterwards, in judgment. But in his death, God has reconciled all things to himself in heaven and on earth. This means an ongoing stewardship that by creation, in spite of the fall and by redemption, has meaning that begins now and will never end. Think of one recent example. The work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a work that was grounded in the gospel of the kingdom of God in Christ. And it impacted not only a generation, but it impacts us today, as we see the truth better lived out, that we are all God's children by creation and potentially his born from above ones by the new creation in Jesus.

Now to war. We must live out the vision of the future we find in Scripture. This looks like living in peace in our families and faith communities, as well as in our workplaces and neighborhoods. It may involve turning the other cheek, going the second mile, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who persecute us, showing them the love of God in Christ Jesus.

If we believe that we're not just of the present age, but also of the age to come, then we need to seek to live this out: like those who are part of the ushering in of the new era. Yes, that era like a wedding and the marriage afterwards will take over completely when Christ returns. But we as Christ's Body are those who not only announce this new age, but are part of it, already, here and now. And we're to be seeking to bring others in and influence this world towards that vision from God.

This will involve speaking prophetically as we can, to the powers, in light of God's kingdom come in Jesus. But above all, always, really living differently as those whose Lord is Jesus, and no other.

What thoughts do you have on this you would like to share or challenge us with?

Christians and war (part one)
Christians and war (part two)
Christians and war (part three)
Christians and war (part four)
Christians and war (part five)
Christians and war (part six)
Christians and war (part seven)


Drew said...

Ted--Life has been very busy for me lately; I wished I had more time to interact with your thoughts. But I just wanted you to know that I have really appreciated all your work on this series. Great job!

Ted Gossard said...

Drew, I was thinking of you and am so glad you gave it a look, and that it has a good measure of approval with you. I consider it especially valuable in its own way, to hear from one who takes this position (in general) on war. Thanks!

Odysseus said...

I agree completely. As I have stated over and over again, the problem comes when we try to implement the ultimate future. How do we go about that? What would it look like? Can (or should) we do things now to point to that future? I believe we can and I believe it is our vocation to do so. One of those is non-violence. Ghandi said, 'You must be the change we want to see in the world.' I believe that could be a summary statement of the Sermon on the Mount (or Plain). That is what Christ has called us to be. We are to be witnesses, not just speak as a witness. It is a lifestyle. At least, it should be.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

andre said...


Hey, I thought you were stopping at part 6 - I'm delighted to see you continue the conversation. I agree with you that while we are to look forward to Christ's return, we are also to work toward that day. But we do so realizing our need to trust that God - that he is the one that can bring about ultimate peace.

Not sure that peace equates with non-violence, though. As you know from my blog, I tend to view a place for conflict on the basis of a Christian view of Just War. It is used in extremes but there are times where this is necessary. Halting the advance of Nazism or the hostile Japanese invasions in the Far East in WW2 would be examples.

Ted Gossard said...

OD, I agree. It has to be a lifestyle from us.

Even those who believe in some kind of just war theory can embrace this idea, and do alot in this area. To promote peace and justice in more peaceable and creative ways. And this needs to be a big part of what we're about, and trying to do in this world, surely. Thanks! (I know you're an ally too, but I tend to look at Mennonites and Anabaptists as in this category, since that's my background, and Drew's as well- and his foreground, too!)

Ted Gossard said...

Andre, Your just war position is helpful, I think, in getting Christians to hold to such to be more proactive in finding nonviolent solutions. Though acknowledging the place for restraining evil by force.

I hold to what I think is the Biblical view for God's people today, that we're to live a different ethic in this world, that is not of this world. At the same time, giving deference to God's establishing and use of the state/ the powers, to stop evil doing and bring a kind of peace, in this world.

The quandary for Christian pacifists (and I think for all Christians; no one should take this lightly, and I know you don't) is what part if any, do we play in the state's servant of God function. (on part five, I touch on it). I can understand both sides, and have been there. I can't reconcile Christ's call of the kingdom, teaching, and life, with Christian participation in the military. This for me is where "Caesar" conflicts with Jesus.

But I certainly respect those who differ.

L.L. Barkat said...

I loved when you said, "We're not simply here to 'get saved' then wait for Jesus to come and make everything right and new." What is it about us that seems to think that's okay? I rather think this cannot represent a world-wide church attitude... I think it's more ours here in this country... so what's the catch?

Ted Gossard said...

L.L., Thanks. Good question. And I do think it does tend to be an American problem, maybe stemming from old dispensationalism, from which people would get excited over prophetic charts, and be thinking it's all about getting others saved because Jesus is coming soon.

But the vision the kingdom brings is vastly different and is concerned about more than just waiting for Jesus to return and make all things right and new.

I have to think that the full gospel is missing for us. Whereas in other countries, say third world ones, Christians connect readily with the promises for justice and peace against systemic evil. Hardly considered here, by white, middle class and above Americans (not to pick too hard on us!).

Just a thought....

Ted Gossard said...

Looking at this post again, it hits me just how elemental my thoughts and theological take on this, is now.

The bottom line is that we need to be an alternative to the world's way of solving the problem of evil. It is redemptive, which will include, at times, suffering on our part. It is life-giving. We give our lives, so others can receive life. This is the way of Christ. And we must take it, if we're to truly follow him. And I believe this is best done from a Christian pacifist, activist stance.

Wonders for Oyarsa said...

Hi Ted,

So, can a Christian, in your view, ligitametly be a police officer? A UN peacekeeper? A security guard? A secret service agent?

I really don't see how the pacifist position can consistently be anything but radically dualist.

Ted Gossard said...

Wonders, Hi. Thanks for the good question.

Of course a Christian can be all those. I have a friend at work, and I think we're good friends, who is right now training to be a police person (or whatever you would call them nowdays). As someone pointed out to me, the question is SHOULD they be such.

I don't think it's dualistic in the bad sense when Jesus tells his disciples to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.

The question is not in calling anything irreconcilable and not part of God's good creation. The question lies in what is consistent with the kingdom of God come in Jesus. It doesn't matter if that doesn't jive with "Caesar". We submit to the powers until they make a law that says we must do this or do that in violation of our allegiance to Christ as Lord. If I believe Christ calls us to a kingdom that refuses to take the sword and kill either a nonchristian or a Christian, then is refusal to participate in this way, dualistic?

Yes, Christ brings in another kingdom by which we're to live. But we're to bring that newness into this old world. And that involves taking up a cross, and as Bonhoeffer said, "Come and die."

I probably haven't answered your question satisfactorially. But you're right in this: groups that embrace a pacifist stance tend to be dualistic. Dualistic in the sense of living communually in radical separation (more or less) from the world, the Amish perhaps being the best example of that.

What do you think about any of that?

Oh, one more thing. We're to be in the world but not of it, of course. So we must engage it. Was Dr. Martin Luther King's way, which he believed was the way of Jesus, was that dualistic in his work for "civil rights"? The way of nonviolence?

Wonders for Oyarsa said...

Hi Ted,

I certainly have nothing but admiration for the work of Dr. King, and the Civil Rights movement. I think it a marvelous outworking of the gospel, and a witness to the world.

But I also think the Civil Rights movement could only thrive in the context of government and society where there is some justice done, where some order is in place, and where people have some sense of certain values that the protesters could appeal to.

The Bible is unequivocal on the fact that kings and peoples have a duty to establish justice, to protect the weak and helpless, to see that everyday matters can be carried out without the chaos caused by troublesome and violent men. When government does this - the most basic of its tasks - it is not doing "violence", it is doing justice. And nearly every government in the entire world does this - making life better with the government than it would be without it. Some governments manage to do it well, and create a society where basic justice is the expectation of everyday life.

It doesn't even occur to us here in the U.S., who are low on cash, to form a gang of brigands and rape and rob. Heck - it would certainly be fun - helping ourselves to all sorts of goodies in these fine houses, having beautiful women at our mercy to do with whatever we please. But the strong arm of justice forces any such thoughts into hiding and shadows.

Now - granted that, as long as the hearts of men are evil from his youth, he must be in the context of a government (lest the above paragraph be the rule and not the exception). Is the kingdom of God something that can come alongside, inform, and transform the business of justice? Or must it keep to the side, lest its hands get dirty with the realities of life in this world?

What's more, is every human government to be identified with "Caesar" - a man who declared himself the son of God and lord of the world? Must the kingdom of God look upon mere righting of wrongs, keeping of order, and doing of justice with the same ambiguity of usurping the title of Christ?

The Amish (whose consistency I respect) do indeed answer "yes". And they rightly see that any participation in government relies on the use of force to establish its will. So they do not vote, they do not hold any office, they do not participate. Their kingdom is not off this world. And so it leads to dualism, as it must.

I don't see this as the message of scripture or of Christ. It is far more complex than the simplistic readings of either extreme pacifists or jingoists. For every "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks" there is "Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears." For every "all who take the sword will perish by the sword." there is "let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one". There is a time for peace and a time for war. A time for mercy and of judgment. And the kingdom of God breaks in to every bit of our lives, both corporate and individual.

To give an example, I see the Christmas truce of World War II as a powerful symbolic act of the gospel, subverting the will of governments whose own pride lead them to war when they should make peace. Here the gospel stands in judgment on them, and "blessed are the peacemakers". But equally pertinent, I see governments today who stand idly by when the horrors of Darfur go on unchecked. And I think the church should be the first to cry for men of strength to act in God's justice on behalf of the weak and the dying. Here the gospel says "I have a fire to bring, and how I wish it were already kindled."

Ted Gossard said...


I agree that there has to be order in place, and I did make that point somewhere in this series. God establishes order through the powers/authorities (Romans 13).

I agree with much of what you say. And yes, the kingdom of God in Jesus is to come alongside and work at transforming justice. I think a good example of that for us today is the work of Charles Colson in helping those in prison become responsible and good citizens (and much more, I believe, in his work).

I do believe every human government now is in the same place as Caesar. It has its place, being established by God and is answerable to God. God is Sovereign and at work in regard to them. The kingdom of God come in Jesus invades this world as salt and light. And brings the vision of God's kingdom to bear on all things. This is why we must speak prophetically and first live that out, across the board. But that doesn't mean we have to bear arms and serve in the military just because "Caesar" tells us to.

I think it should be just as strange for a Christian to think of taking up arms and killing a nonchristian or another Christian from another country, as it is for a Christian to think that they shouldn't serve in a function that is called being a servant of God in bearing "the sword" to punish evildoers.

I would deny that the Christian pacifist position is inherently dualistic. It brings to earth and to the old order, a new order and creation. We acknowledge the function the state has now. But we participate in a new reality that brings the newness of God's kingom in Jesus but involves in this life, taking our cross in identity with Christ and following the path he took. And while Christians who participate in the military can take up their cross as well and be a testimony for Christ, I believe to take up weapons to kill is in itself contradictory to who we are and what we're to be about in Jesus.

Thanks again for taking the time and sharing with us your take on this. Very good.