Friday, July 20, 2007

Christian nonresistance

Recently I was challenged gently by a sister on war and nonresistance. I must say that the answers on either side have plenty of difficulties as well as seeming justification for their views (Just War and Christian Pacifist positions).

The position of Christian Pacificism would hold that we are to take the steps that Jesus took, in all of life. This means taking up our cross, which means following closely to the Lord, and thus finding his easy yoke and light burden (Bonhoeffer). The good news that Jesus brought was assured by him taking on himself the evil and sins of the world, not resisting that, so that the love of God could prevail in reconciling all peoples and creation to himself. We in Jesus are to live out this gospel in our lives, a good news bringing peace and overcoming evil with good.

To those who hold to Jesus's teaching of nonresistance, and actually all Christians must hold to it in one way or another, but I mean to those who hold it with a pacifist view, this means a refusal to take vengeance in one's own hands no matter what, because vengeance belongs to God (Romans 12). Repeatedly in the New Testament Christian nonresistance is linked to God's vengeance against the evildoing and evildoers (Volf).

I believe Christian participation in the military and in war is a watering down of what Jesus taught us and a compromise of the gospel itself. That is, if I profess to follow Christ and his way, this must be true in all of life, not just in my private life. If I'm willing to take up arms and kill during war, then I'm saying that the gospel and the way of Christ does not apply in that situation. Christians in Jesus are called to a different life, apart from the state, which has been established by God to execute his vengeance on evildoers. But in Christ, I believe, this is not a part of the calling of the believer.

I know this is short, and many good Christians ardently disagree. I believe in the end we must subject all things to Scripture, and especially look at the life of Jesus when he was on earth, as well as all that is written about this present age between Christ's first and second comings. Some of the arguments I've heard against Christian pacifism and nonresistance, I'm afraid, don't do this. We must keep searching the Scriptures and work on this.

Anyone for nonresistance?

Great links: Why I am a pacifist and Paul and War from Scot McKnight

And my seven part series on this (links at bottom): Christians and war


Odysseus said...

As you know, I am with you on this issue. We just talked about this last night in our men's group. We agreed that there is no easy answer (we were specifically talking about Iraq), but most of us agreed that we shouldn't have been there in the first place.

But I stressed, over and over again, the need to look again at the Bible, particularly the NT, and show me where there was violent resistance to anyone. Show me one passage that speaks of Jesus and/or his followers 'fighting fire with fire'. Of course the money changers scene and Peter cutting of Malcus' ear where brought up. In both cases we can see specific differences to the question (there is no record of Jesus beating the crap out of anyone; Jesus' rebuke to Peter). Over and over again, there are statements of patience during persecution. Not once do we read how we are to not let that happen, that we should be defending our families, that we should be using force to stop the evil. Not once. If we look at the early history (say the first 2-300 years) we continue to see the same thing. To me, this is quite telling. Midst the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people (some accounts of a person's own family being slaughtered in front of them), not one account of violent resistance. Again, very telling. Take that, plus the complete silence of NT support, and I don't think there is a case for violence within a Christian worldview.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

Every Square Inch said...


Strong words from my pacifist blogging friend ;-)

Ted, I do respect your position and I get the logic between consistency of private and public.

Yet, in your private life, wouldn't you use physical force against someone who might be attempting to hurt, maim or kill a member of your family? Truthfully, I think I would.

Thanks for your thoughts.

Ted Gossard said...

To everyone:

To hopefully be a little more theologically precise and better stated, I changed the post from:

The good news that Jesus brought IS DONE SO BY taking on himself the evil and sins of the world...


The good news that Jesus brought WAS ASSURED BY HIM taking on himself the evil and sins of the world...

While I like Augustine's words, something to the effect that "We speak so as to not be altogether silent," (he, a writer and speaker of many words), I still want to try to say things as well as I can theologically. I think this is an improvement.

Ted Gossard said...

OD, I agree, though I acknowledge that there are some good theological arguments out there to defend Christian participation in the state, though I really am not persuaded by them, and this is a hard position to take.

I do believe there are viable ways for Christians to serve who embrace pacifism, even in the military, such as chaplaincy and medic work.

Ted Gossard said...

ESI, Thanks for the good challenge!

I cannot imagine me not doing something to stop an assailant on my wife or daughter (my family). I can, however, see a complete stance of nonresistance if the wife and husband are agreed in their faith on that.

So I suppose I'm a weak pacifist, though I wouldn't want to kill or maim the attacker. My wife, Deb is empathetic to my view of pacifism, but I need to talk to her more about it to see where she stands.

Anonymous said...

i serve in the army...God's army. we have a secret weapon, God's got a never ending supply of Love, well, maybe that is not a secret after all.

Ted Gossard said...

Nancy, Yes, the weapons of our warfare are spiritual, and certainly the love of God in Christ is at the heart of that. Not meant to be hidden, but lived out and proclaimed by us in Jesus, to all.

KM said...

Thanks Ted, for stating your case so clearly. The private-public consistency point hit me particularly hard and your fourth paragraph in particular gets an A+, lol! :-)

Yep, am with you. Like you say, there are many ways to support a state and to work for universal restoration without wielding a bayonet or whacking somebody with it. To my mind, whacking somebody and restoration don't really tally...

And what if you and I are wrong? Well, I gotta leave myself open to God's teaching on this one & in the meantime I'll do my best not to judge those who feel called to combat. I think that's the best I can do until God convicts me otherwise!

Ted Gossard said...

km, Well put, and thanks.

joe said...

i know this is an older post, but thanks for it. as a renewed anabaptist growing up in the mennonite tradition, i have found a renewed passion for the gospel. including the way of peace and non-violence.

i just cant read the gospels without reading about peace as a part of God's kingdom.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Joe, I'm with you and I miss the input of Christians who believe in that and reinforce that. It seems we live in a culture in which military is one dominant focus and we Christians imbibe that spirit and action failing to see it's a watering down of the gospel itself, I believe. Thanks.