Saturday, March 28, 2009


I hold to a Christian pacifist position, that is that followers of Jesus are to be people who follow in the steps of Jesus who taught us to love our enemies, and when hit on one cheek to turn the other.

Jim Elliot is often touted by Christians as a great example, but it is little known that he embraced a Christian pacifist stance, and was going to file as a "conscientious objector," if a draft was put in place.

I have been well reminded lately that the power we have as Christians is neither in the ballot box nor by the sword, but by the word of God. Not to say we don't vote, or that many Christians don't take up "the sword" as police officers, or in the military, though I don't accept the latter option. But to say that we are to be people who live out and speak the word of God, the revelation of God that is in Jesus.

This is a word that speaks against the ways of this world, the way of violence, and instead is about taking the way of the cross. As Christians, regardless of where we stand in what ways Christians can participate in society, and specifically in the state, we ought to be known as people who are followers of the Way, in the sense of being known as working for peace in terms of righteousness, which can only be realized through the message of Jesus- the gospel: Jesus' redemptive work for us, in his life, death and resurrection which we will soon remember and celebrate.

How this is lived out can be misunderstood. Some think it means we have to let ourselves be rugs for others to walk on. But that is a misreading of Scripture, and misunderstanding of what Jesus brought and continues to bring through the Spirit in the church. We must be bold, but with a boldness that is of God's Spirit, not of the flesh; not of this world, but of the kingdom of God come in Jesus.

Just a few thoughts on this. A subject I've blogged about before, but has been in my mind some lately. What would you like to add to this? What objections might you raise to what I'm saying here?


Dan Martin said...

Are you sure Jim Elliot was a pacifist? I come from a peace-church background so I'm on your side on this one, but I'm almost sure I remember from reading "Through Gates of Splendor," that he joined the army and wrote his sister about seeing action (probably Korea, I'm guessing?). If not he, at least one of the five did, and I thought it was he.

Of course, I read the book over 30 years ago and do not have a copy. . .

If you're interested, follow the link back to my own blog and you'll see I've done a series recently on war & peace myself. . .

In any case, peace to you! More particularly, pax Christi!

Percival said...

I used to be a more total pacifist, but the implications of it bothered me. In other words, no military service also means no police work, also means letting innocent lives be taken while I stand by in my clear conscience. I know that is overly simplistic, but I think total pacifism is too. Loving in a violent world full of oppression will always be messy and will require people to make very difficult choices to protect the innocent.

Dan Martin said...

Percival, I share your ambivalence, as I describe in more detail here. That is why my current position is that while violence is never the best way to address any problem, I cannot in certainty state I'd never use violent force, or that it is always wrong. Nevertheless my conviction is stronger than it had been for a long time, that it is unacceptable for the follower of Jesus to accept the violent occupation of the soldier.

This is a thumbnail of thoughts that have taken me 9 posts, so far, on my own blog, as well as some excellent discussions on Mason's New Ways Theology blog. I'll refrain from overloading this one with more detail for now, but those are some possible spots for follow-up.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I think I did receive that message second hand from two sources, and if I actually have read "Through Gates of Splendor", it's been years ago. Though I have a 40th Anniversary Edition copy I told my wife recently I'd like to read.

I do want to get to reading your blog and the postings on war and peace on them.


Ted M. Gossard said...


I hear you. It's a position, not without its difficulties.

Here is an interesting blog with an interesting series from a scholar who's a Christian Pacifist, which touches on police work.

I think there has been some good work done to help us see that there is a Christian Pacifism, grounded in a viable interpretation of Scripture, which is not passive, but active, and creative by God's Spirit.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for the added links, and words you share with us.

I want to work on John Howard Yoder's writings more. I look forward to pursuing the links.

Thanks again.