Thursday, March 08, 2007

Christians and war (part three)

I take it that when Jesus comes to fulfill the Old Covenant, and to bring in the New Covenant, he constitues a new Israel. And a new way of being Israel. It is theocratic, in that God in Christ is Lord over it. But not in the same way Israel of old was. Not as another nation state in the world. But rather, as a holy nation, scattered throughout all nations and the entire earth. Made up of entities called church. And together constituting one church.

Therefore I take Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), not only for his followers in their individual lives. But also for the entire community of God. How they are to live out what they are, as the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

We find those blessed, who are persecuted for righteousness, and because of their faith in Christ. Who endure it. We find those blessed who are peacemakers, being called God's children.

We're called to accept being struck. And to love our enemies, no less. To pray for those who persecute us. To be, in this grace and kindness, like our heavenly Father.

In Luke 6, the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus gives us more of this teaching.

Later, when confronted by Pilate about being a king, Jesus makes it clear that his kingdom is not from this world. And therefore his servants will not fight for his release. I take this to mean that while we are citizens on earth, we live as citizens of heaven. And refuse to fight because we're part of a new kingdom that is not a part of this present world system. But is invading it to bring in, no less than the revolution of the kingdom of God come, in Christ. And with that the beginning of the new creation. Which in the end, after judgement, is to make all things new.

We in Jesus must be countercultural in many ways. We're not to live as this world does. This may seem problematical. Is war and killing intrinsically evil? After all, there were certainly physical battles sanctioned by God in the Old Testament. But we see that even David, the man after God's own heart, was not allowed to build the temple, since he had fought in so much warfare. War may not be intrinsically wrong in itself, though no war fought here and now is without wrong being done on both sides.

But Jesus brings in, understand it all or not (and we don't) a new way to be Israel. That will not render to Caesar what does not belong to him. Since their identity is those whose Lord is Jesus. Not any Caesar. Because of that, I take it, they will not go into battles for nations. Because as the one holy nation, scattered throughout the world, their ethic is redemptive, in Christ. They are part of the mission to bring God's salvation and reconciliation, through the good news of his kingdom, in Christ, to all.

Next week we'll resume working on this. In the meantime, what problems do you have with my thought so far? Or what would you like to add?


Odyssues said...


Love the blog. I have been a silent witness for a while now and just wanted to comment on this subject.

I have been 'converted' to pacifism. It has been a struggle but very rewarding on a deep level. I just wanted to share with you something I read the other day.

In 1Timothy 3, St Paul wrote, 'This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him.'

Note, 'he must not . . . be violent.' I don't know how many times I have read posts from leaders in the church that 'violence' is alright 'in some situations. But only as a last resort.' This passage (along with the passages we are studying) seem very much a counter of that thinking. It seems too many times we are quick to go to the OT to find our 'proof' for a supposed 'just war' stand while the NT teaching seems to have shifted the other way.

I point this out to say this: Over and over again, we are encouraged to follow our leaders, to follow their example of life. Jesus and St Paul taught us that violence is not the answer and, in fact, it only continues the problem. I see it like this, violence and death are results of the fall. As you have so eloquantly put it, our vocation is all about New Creation (or should be) and implementing that now. In the consummation of the New Creation Project, there will be 'no war anymore', no violence, no death. My question is a simple one: What steps can we implement now that reflect that ultimate future? One is simple to stop violence. And let it start with me.

Peace to you.


Ted Gossard said...

OD, Thanks so much for reading and now commenting. Your comment is so helpful, and it's good to hear from a converted pacifist!

Big question at the end. Your answer is a good start. We need to bear prophetic witness to this kingdom come in Jesus, which has no "truck" with this world's kingdoms. In both word, and especially how we live. A big project, indeed. But God is surely in it!


Mark Goodyear said...

First, let me just say that I think I am a pacifist myself. Though when my family is threatened, I surprise myself. (I once beat a very large rat to death with a newspaper. Messy experience, and surprisingly violent thing for me to do.)

One question I have for you (and myself) is whether we should avoid military service. My dad was a career military guy, and when I asked him if war was evil, he had the same response: Jesus didn't tell the centurion to stop being a centurion.

What do you think?

Ted Gossard said...

Mark, Good point. And good question.

Jesus undermines all that the Roman empire stands for, and what it does. By various statements and actions in the New Testament.

So while the Centurion has great faith, this does not prove that the cause for which he serves is approved by God. God's kingdom come in Jesus came with a quite different way.

This does indicate the scope of God's work. We find faith in what seems to be unlikely places. And in this case greater faith than what was in all of Israel.

Remember too, that this new kingdom in Jesus had just come. Jesus was then in the midst of teaching it.

Kind of a beginning answer.


Craver Vii said...

Please don't think of me as a warmonger for raising this question, but would you comment on the passage in Romans, talking about how our rulers are not given the sword in vain? I bring it up, because it seems to be more directed to the role of government and war than the beattitudes. Matthew 5, as I understand it, is broadly and transcendently Christian, not specifically geared to the government.

Ted Gossard said...

Mark, Here is a good read from Jesus Creed closely related to your question:

Ted Gossard said...

Craver, Thanks for the good question.

Here's some more help from Jesus Creed on that:

Actually, these are in reverse order. I need to learn to make it click worthy on comments, my next goal (I know it's not that hard. But it's copy and paste time, I'm afraid.

I echo what Scot says. It's about living as a good citizens. Does bring in the sword, as well as them being servants of God. And conscience. Addresses us as to our relationship to them, the state. More on that, I plan to do, next week.

Kim said...

Ted, This is good stuff! I'm leaning towards believing that some Believers are led in their hearts to participate in war that their governments dispatch them to and others are led to abstain. Further, that one should not judge the other for where they are led.

I struggle a little with being commanded to be "in subjection" to the ruling authorities. What if the ruling authorities conscript you into service?

I'm mulling the idea (that will end up in my blog someday) that all of our physical existence is allegory for the spiritual reality that God is trying to get across to us. In that sense, God may have some spiritual lesson for those Christians who choose to go to war and another for those who choose to refrain from war.

We may not be able to render an absolute answer on the issue.

Peace! Kim

Ted Gossard said...

Kim, Thanks for your comment.

An interesting view about God's leading, that I can use in the same way for other matters, as possibilities.

This question is a matter in which Christians do disagree. And there are good arguments on both sides.

Maybe God does lead in accordance with the differing convictions Christians have on either side, so that what you say could be true. Yet at the same time, God may be working to help Christians in general see a better way. It is amazing in the 20th century, how many Christians, at least leaders, came to embrace a pacifist point of view. Maybe sometimes for the wrong reasons. Though down the line their progeny may have better reasons for the same.

As to the spiritual, material matter, I see all of God's creation as blessed, holy, and part of the new creation in Jesus, to come. Christ comes to redeem creation. And this includes our entire humanity, which means nothing less than the resurrection of our bodies. Yes, spiritual bodies. But bodies like our glorified Lord. That can touch. Eat.

So I really question making such a strong distinction between spiritual and material, which can be Platonic.

The Incarnation, God becoming flesh, becoming material, is a marked Christian testimony to the goodness and spirituality of all God's creation.

That said, I do think even there, you have a great point about God teaching us spiritual lessons through all of our lives. I'm sure he does for Christians in the military. As well as those who are not.


Ted Gossard said...

OD, Thanks too, for your kind word about the blog. Just one humble blog, of course.

The blog world is enriched by us together. Your blog looks most interesting. Really enjoyed your post and pictures I read. And I think I remember you commenting on "Jesus Creed".

Odysseus said...

There are a lot of great statements and questions here! Way to go brothers and sisters!

My take on Romans 13, and I realize that I am really bad at explaining this, is that while 'the sword' is used in the passage, I think the main idea is that of punishment for crime. Now, that does not mean that we should use violence today. I think that point was a historical one. The Romans were very good at using force. The point is, yes, there must be some kind of authority in place or else the bullies will always win. The poor will always be brutalized unless there are laws in place to protect them from the bullies. I think that challenge, however, is for us to be creative and come up with different types of discipline that is not violent. 'God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God'. In other words, we can still be peaceful but be firm in our discipline as well. Does that make sense?

Concerning Christians and the military: I think this is something to which we should look to history. For the longest time, Christians were not in the military. If someone became in Christian while serving in the military, they 'got out' somehow. In fact, there were historians of the day that chided the Christians for not 'defending their kingdom'. The response was that they belonged to a different kingdom. Christians being in the military didn't really become 'the norm' until Constantine. And it has never really recovered from that.

Concerning material being allegorical for the spiritual: I concur with Ted on this one. It seems that too many times the church is almost Platonic in this. Ted made a great case for the incarnation as pointing to the goodness (and I would state 'very good[ness]') of God's creation, which we are a part. But I would also point to the resurrection. Jesus was not raised in heaven but on earth. He was given a transformed physical body in the 'now'. And the NT is clear that all of creation is groaning like a woman in travail for that day that it (us) too will be likewise.

Well, enough for responded so long on Ted's blod. Sorry if this was too long and out of my place.

Peace to you all.


Ted Gossard said...

OD, Not at all. I appreciate it. Thanks for sharing your takes. Good and interesting!

And yes. We're not looking forward to the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the body (did I read that from N.T. Wright recently? I think so. I certainly concur.)

Craver Vii said...

Again, let me preface by stating that I do not love violence; I just do not clearly see a mandate in black and white that says no good Christian can go to war. If there were such a thing as a Christian nation, that would be a different story, but there will not be a true Christian nation until Jesus returns, and He, Himself will be wielding the sword at that time.

Odysseus, I am happy to see your response, because have not had much dialogue on this topic, except with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

You said, ”If someone became in Christian while serving in the military, they 'got out' somehow.”

I do not at all doubt that there have been many conscientious objectors these last two millennia. But saved people have done all kinds of things. Doesn’t the Bible seem strangely silent on this? Why don’t we see Jesus or Peter or Paul or John the Baptist telling soldiers to leave the military?

Ted Gossard said...

Craver, Good Christians disagree on this subject. And I believe there are good arguments on both sides. As well as problems for both sides.

As for Jesus wielding the sword when he returns, and an army of his saints following him- I've heard Christians use that to justify Christian participation in war. But that is the time of judgement. Now is the day of grace. And explicitly God's work is now, not to judge the world, but to save the world through Christ (John 3).

We're now called to follow Christ's example of suffering for us. We're to follow in his steps in that (1 Peter 2).

We are part of a holy nation and a kingdom that is not from this world. Yet, in Christ, is in this world, while not of it. And will not, in itself, fight as the world does.

Here's where we Christians disagree. Some say we can still serve under governments (powers) of this world, in the military. And carry on the spiritual warfare as well. And they do.

Others of us say, we're not to fight as the world does, not just in our lives in mission, but in all of our lives, period (2 Corinthians 10). So that we refuse to fight in any way that we think would compromise our calling and obedience to Christ and the kingdom of God. We refuse to fight in ways that we believe compromise the spiritual warfare we're called to wage.