Reformed Christian Pacifism

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Particular Baptist

Puritan Board Freshman
In recent months, I've come to the conviction that true, Christian pacifism is biblical and the true calling of the Christian. However, I know that most of my brothers and sisters do not see things this way, and that's fine. I just read an article by David A. Hoekema about what Christian paciifism is and is not. I found it to be quite interesting. I just thought it would be interesting to get everyone else's take on the article and Christian pacifism in general.

A Practical Christian Pacifism

by David A. Hoekema

Dr. Hoekema is executive director of the American Philosophical Association, Newark, Delaware. This article appeared in the Christian Century, October 22, 1986, pps. 917-919. Copyright by the Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at The Christian Century. This article prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


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Few moral and theological positions are as deeply cherished by their adherents, yet so quickly dismissed by their opponents, as pacifism. The moral legitimacy of using violence is among the most urgent issues of our time, and yet its discussion slips quickly into an exchange of stereotypes. Pacifists are to be commended, even admired—runs the familiar observation in mainline Protestant, Catholic and evangelical circles—but we who know what the world is really like cannot share their naive optimism. The pacifist’s reply has become equally familiar: the principles of just war, noble as they may sound, in practice merely pronounce a blessing upon ruling nations and ideologies.

I have grown increasingly dissatisfied with the gulf separating pacifists from defenders of just war. The church in which I was raised, the Christian Reformed Church, is what one draft board, in refusing a friend’s request to be recognized as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam war, aptly termed a "war church." Calvinist theology has long been hostile to pacifism, and most Reformed churches’ reflections on war begin by distinguishing justified from unjustified wars. Yet the Reformed perspectives on the nature of the person and of society can actually support a realistic form of pacifism—a version that has received too little attention in either the "peace churches" or the "war churches."

Pacifism need not be politically naive, nor need it place undue faith in human goodness. These may be telling objections to some pacifists, but a careful articulation of the pacifist vision can meet them. By the same token, pacifists ought not deride just-war theory as merely Realpolitik in vestments, for the just-war tradition, when taken seriously, is just as stringent in its demands as is pacifism.

The case for Christian pacifism has been made frequently and fervently by many writers. The Gospel writers record that Jesus called his followers to a way of life in which violence and division are overcome by sacrificial love. We must not return evil for evil, Jesus taught, but must return good for evil; we must not hate those who wrong us but must love our enemies and give freely to those who hate us. These themes in Jesus’ ministry were deeply rooted in the Hebrew prophetic tradition, and Jesus’ ministry an his sacrificial death were a continuation and a fulfillment of that tradition. Followers of Jesus, Christian pacifists say, must follow both his example and his teachings: they must show love for all in their actions and seek healing and reconciliation in every situation.

The early Christian community understood Jesus’ commands to prohibit the bearing of arms. Christians refused to join the military, even though the Roman army of the period was as much a police force as a conquering army. Those who converted to Christianity while in military service were instructed to refrain from killing, to pray for forgiveness for past acts of violence, and to seek release from their military obligations. A striking example of the pervasiveness of pacifism in the early church is the fact that Tertullian and Origen—church fathers who stood at opposite poles regarding the relation of faith to philosophical reasoning—each wrote a tract supporting Christians’ refusal to join the military.

A profound change in the Christian attitude toward war occurred at the time of the emperor Constantine, whose conversion to Christianity helped bring the Christian community from the fringes to the center of Western society. From the time of Constantine to the present, pacifism has been a minority view in the Christian church. The just-war tradition, rooted in the ethical theories of Plato and Cicero and formulated within the Christian tradition by Augustine, Aquinas and the Protestant Reformers, defends military force as a last resort against grave injustice. According to this view, when the innocent are threatened by an unjust aggressor and all other remedies have failed, Jesus’ demand for sacrificial love may require us to use lethal force.

Pacifism and just-war theory reach different conclusions only in a narrow range of cases: both positions insist that Christians must strive always for healing and reconciliation and must act out of love for all, and both traditions unequivocally condemn the reasons—whether nationalism, territorial or economic gain, revenge or glory—for which nearly all wars have been fought. Yet the differences that exist are both theologically and politically significant. Just-war defenders argue that if all means short of violence have failed and organized violence promises to be a limited and effective means of reestablishing justice, Christians may participate in war. Pacifists insist that to resort to warfare, even for a moral end, is to adopt a means inconsistent with the Christian’s calling.

Why is the pacifist vision of a healing and reconciling ministry of nonviolence not universally embraced in the churches? I would single out five prominent arguments to which pacifists, if they are to make their own position cogent and realistic, must respond.

Pacifism is surrender. "The pacifist viewpoint is appealing in principle, but in practice it means surrendering to the aggressor," is a charge heard often. "Capitulation to the forces of evil cannot be moral."

The problem with this objection is that it equates pacifism with passive nonresistance. Pacifism is not synonymous with "passivism": the pacifist rejection of war is compatible with a great many measures for defense against aggression. In fact, pacifist theorists have urged the development of a civilian-based non-military defense, which would encompass organized but nonviolent resistance, refusal to cooperate with occupying forces, and efforts to undermine enemy morale.

The tendency to equate pacifism with "passivism" and capitulation reflects how little we know of the remarkable historical successes nonviolent tactics have achieved, even in the face of brutal repression. From the courageous Swedish and Danish resistance to Nazism to the transformation of Polish society by the Solidarity labor movement, and from the struggle for Indian self-rule led by Gandhi to the struggle for racial equality in the United States led by Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, nonviolence has been a creative and effective force. Whether nonviolent resistance can always overcome aggression and whether its cost in suffering and death will in every case be less than that of war is difficult to say, but at least it cannot be said that pacifism is merely a policy of capitulation.

Pacifism extolls purity. "The main problem with pacifism" runs a second objection, " is that the pacifist places a higher value on his or her own purity of conscience than on saving others’ lives. If we are going to fulfill our obligations, we have to be willing to get our hands dirty and not hold ourselves on some higher moral plateau than everyone else. Pacifists enjoy the freedom that others ensure by their willingness to resort to arms.

This objection rests on two confusions. In the first place, pacifism is an objection to war per se, not merely an objection to personal participation in war. Pacifists do not ask for a special exemption because of their high moral views or delicate sensibilities; they refuse to participate in war because it is immoral. Their exemption from military service is simply the compromise position that has developed in a society in which moral objection to war is not unanimously shared.

A second confusion in this argument is the notion that taking part in war shall be regarded as a lesser evil, rendered necessary by extreme circumstances. Such a claim has no part in traditional just-war theory—or, indeed, in any coherent moral theory. The just-war proponent believes that war is sometimes required by justice, in which case it is not the lesser of two evils but is itself a good. The issue is whether intentional killing in war is ever a good thing, not whether one ought to grit one’s teeth and bravely commit one wrong rather than another.

Pacifism is based on optimistic humanism. "Pacifism links a noble ideal—the avoidance of violence—to naive and implausible assumptions about the inherent goodness of human nature. If I thought that I could trust people and nations to resolve their differences peaceably and fairly, I would be a pacifist too. But history teaches us differently."

This objection brings us near the heart of the theological argument against pacifism. Indeed, it is a telling argument against some forms of pacifism. Gandhi, for example, was sustained by a deep faith in the goodness of human nature, a goodness he thought nonviolent action could call forth. "If love or non-violence be not the law of our being," he wrote, "the whole of my argument falls to pieces" (in Gandhi on Non-violence, edited by Thomas Merton [New Directions, 1964], p. 25). Similar optimism about human nature seems to have motivated some Quaker writers and much of the pacifism of American church leaders following the First World War. Such optimism requires a selective and unrealistic assessment of human behavior and human capacities. If pacifism rests on a trust that people have a natural capacity and an irrepressible tendency to resolve their differences justly and harmoniously, then pacifism is a delusion, and a dangerous one.

Such trust is not, however, essential to pacifism. There can be a realistic pacifism, a pacifism that gives due weight to the sinfulness and perversity of human nature.

Pacifists and defenders of just war can agree that every life is tainted with sin, and that evil will inevitably arise, but still disagree about how we ought to respond when it does arise. An essential companion to the doctrine of sin is the doctrine of grace. Though human nature is corrupted by sin, it is also illuminated by God’s presence and guidance; God’s grace shows itself in countless ways in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike. In light of this fact, evil demands a response that overcomes rather than compounds evil. Such a pacifist stance differs significantly from a Gandhian or humanistic faith in the capacity of the human heart for goodness, while retaining the conviction that there are other remedies for sin besides war.

It should be noted, further, that realism about human nature cuts two ways: if it undermines a pacifism based on optimism, it also undermines the assumption that weapons of destruction and violence intended to restrain evil will be used only for that purpose. The reality of human sinfulness means that the instruments we intend to use for good are certain to be turned to evil purposes as well. There is therefore a strong presumption for using those means of justice that are least likely to be abused and least likely to cause irrevocable harm when they are abused. An army trained and equipped for national defense can quickly become an army of conquest or a tool of repression in the hands of an unprincipled leader. But a nonviolent national defense force, or a peacekeeping force bringing together citizens of a dozen nations, is of little use except for its intended purpose.

Pacifism confuses moral categories. "The basic confusion of pacifists is their assumption that the principles of Christian morality which we ought to follow in our individual lives can be applied to governments. Only individuals can truly be moral; governments are by their very nature ‘immoral,’ if we judge them as we would judge individuals. Killing is wrong for individuals, but for states an entirely different standard must be applied."

The notion that morality applies to individuals and not to governments is completely contrary to a central doctrine of Reformed theology which is endorsed, in varying forms, by other Christian traditions as well: that Jesus Christ is the Lord not just of the church, nor of a special sphere of religious activity, but of all of the natural and human world. We are not called to serve God in our religious activities and to carry on as usual in the other areas of life—far from it. We are called to live as followers of Jesus Christ in every human activity. Thus, we must obey God’s demands for justice and reconciliation not only as families and churches but as societies. There is no room in Christian social thought for excluding governments from the realm of morality. If Christian ethics permits killing in certain circumstances, then violence is legitimate as a last resort, both for individuals and for governments. But if, on the other hand, Jesus did in fact demand that the members of the new Kingdom he inaugurated renounce all killing, then we must restructure both our personal and our institutional lives to fulfill that demand.

Pacifism is too patient. "To suffer wrong rather than harm another, to return nonviolent resistance for violent oppression, might have been appropriate at an earlier stage in our struggle. But the violence inflicted on us for so long leaves us no choice but to use force in return. We can endure no more; only arms can bring justice now."

This argument, the cry raised in Soweto and San Salvador, is painfully familiar, and it is impossible to hear it without feeling the deep pain of those who make it. I am not sure whether this argument can be answered. Those of us who regard it at a comfortable distance may not know the possibilities that remain to those whose lives have been stunted by violence.

Are there wrongs so grave that only violent means can set them right? I do not believe there are, but I do believe that the historical point at which one faces this question is significant. Nazism would surely have been destroyed by sustained nonviolent resistance had Christians and others not averted their gaze from its evil for so long. But whether Nazism could have been destroyed by nonviolent means in 1939 is a far more difficult question. Similarly, the Christian churches of South Africa, both black and white, could once have ended the policy of apartheid through nonviolent reforms, but today, as the black death toll mounts into the thousands, it is difficult to imagine that the system will fall unless commensurate force is brought to bear against it.

Situations of extreme oppression do not invalidate the pacifist vision of nonviolent change. Active but nonlethal resistance is both theologically and practically defensible even in seemingly hopeless circumstances—as the courageous work of André Trocmé in Vichy France and of several church leaders in South Africa today makes evident. Yet many in such situations turn to violence as their last hope in the struggle for justice. We may dispute their conclusion, but our response should be more one of solidarity than of condemnation.

I have argued that the major objections to pacifism can be met by a pacifism grounded in Christian commitment and realism about human nature. To answer these objections is not to show that pacifism is the only responsible stance that a Christian may adopt. The issue of the justifiability of violence needs to be faced squarely and debated vigorously in the churches, and pacifists and non-pacifists can learn much from each other in this debate. Nevertheless, I believe that the practical pacifism I have described deserves more serious consideration than it has received in Christian circles, especially since the major alternative to pacifism in Christian ethics, the just-war tradition, has significant deficiencies. Important as the just-war tradition has been in the development of Christian thinking about war and peace, it gives insufficient weight to the central Christian calling to be agents of healing and reconciliation.

Furthermore, the radical changes that the nuclear age has brought to the phenomenon of war make it impossible to weigh means against ends in the way required by just-war theory. War is justified, according to just-war criteria, when its good result—the restoration of justice—outweights the harm it will cause. But when the possible consequences of war include the destruction of humankind and the permanent defacement of the entire natural and human world, we do not know how to balance benefits against such costs. The just-war tradition cannot guide us in thinking about such a prospect.

What are the practical implications of such a pacifist stance? Several first steps can be clearly identified. The cessation of nuclear testing and of the development of new weapons systems, and the subsequent reduction of existing stockpiles of weapons would stabilize the international balance of terror. If at the same time means of international cooperation were created and international authorities strengthened, the threat of war would begin to hang less heavily over us. To go beyond these preliminary steps to abolish war would require far more drastic attacks on the political and economic roots of war.

No one can consistently call for peaceful alternatives to war without reflecting on the ways in which one personally participates in and benefits from social institutions that cause violence. Some people may refuse to take up arms, others may withhold taxes designated for military ends; and others may renounce jobs or possessions that implicate them in injustice. Here there is an urgent need for more open and honest discussion in the churches, for we are too quick to condemn those who bear witness in a way to which we do not feel called. We ought not to demand the same actions from everyone. Out of more open and honest discussion may come new and still untried ways of putting flesh on a shared vision of peace.

Practical Christian pacifism is grounded in faithfulness and hope, but also in realism. It provides not only a moral basis for dealing with conflicts but a framework within which to carry on the vital task of building structures that can eventually eliminate war and its causes.

A Practical Christian Pacifism
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The author does not establish pacifism but only seeks to legitimize it in light of certain objections.

My response: if pacifism is what Christ would have us practice, why then would soldiers be told by John the Baptist to continue to be soldiers? (Luke 3) The kingdom of God is coming upon them but this does not necessitate a change in their occupation but only a change of their practices within this occupation. Why did Cornelius continue to serve in the Roman army? (Acts 10) Clearly here is the opportunity for Peter to instruct this man to give up his charge for the New Testament era has begun; one which, according to the pacifist position, rules out such work. But he does no such thing. Why is the sword of the state legitimately held and wielded by God's command but Christians may not partake in such a endeavor? (Romans 13) If Christ expected the attitude of everyone to be conciliatory to their enemies in every situation, the state would be undermined as a lawful institution by God, which has been created to provide protection for its citizens. Indeed, it could be argued that serving in the military can, in some instances, be a fulfillment of the command to love my neighbour by protecting their welfare and well-being at the harm of my own life and well-being.

As a point of fact, many Christians were soldiers in the times of the early church but had difficulty serving not because they were all pacifists but because the government required an allegiance to Caesar that went beyond a honoring or respect of the man and/or office. They could not continue to serve because, by doing so, they would be committing idolatry.
 
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jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Have you ever read Stanley Hauerwas? He is a big supporter of christian pacifism. I have always wanted to ask someone who identified themselves as a pacifist some questions, so now I get my chance. First off I deeply respect the pacifist vision, although I'm not one, for trying to ground their P.O.V. in Scripture. I respect the theoretical P.O.V. of pacifism and in my own critiques of it I have tried to take it seriously and not resort to the same sort of name calling arguments in the article above. So I will begin.

The article, along with most pacifists I've read, stress the govermental level and an individual and/or church community response to it, pacifistic response. What I'm intereted in is how this ethic plays itself out on an individual to individual level. Lets say, hypothetically of course, that a pacifist is marriad and has kids and someone breaks into their house with the intention of raping and murdering the wife and killing the children. How does the pacifist respond to this assuming his only option left is to physically engage the criminals? It seems to me that the line between violance and nonviolance can be blurred, is pushing the guy off her a violant act? Great discussion and I look foward to your answer.
 

Andres

Puritan Board Doctor
In recent months, I've come to the conviction that true, Christian pacifism is biblical and the true calling of the Christian. However, I know that most of my brothers and sisters do not see things this way, and that's fine. I just read an article by David A. Hoekema about what Christian paciifism is and is not. I found it to be quite interesting. I just thought it would be interesting to get everyone else's take on the article and Christian pacifism in general.
http://http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=115

Is this article what swayed you to pacifism? You assert that pacifism is biblical, so would you please share the scriptures that led you to conclude this. Thank you.
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
James:

I will & can not speak on behalf of or for any pacifists but I know one pacifist who said it would be his duty to stand by and watch his wife be raped and/or killed.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
James:

I will & can not speak on behalf of or for any pacifists but I know one pacifist who said it would be his duty to stand by and watch his wife be raped and/or killed.
I imagine that there would probally be a case by case basis. I heard an old pastor say to me one time that "it is just as wrong to break any and all of the commandments as it is to keep one commandment to point of breaking another", that always stuck with me. Thanks for the reply.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
While I share some of the author's concerns, I have some serious questions:

1) Why does he seem to equate "nonviolent" (by which I understand him to mean not-physically-injurious) with "non-aggressive"? To key in on the two "20th Century" examples, I would categorize DMLK's and Ghandi's movements both as aggressive and confrontational. The fact that their forms of resistance and revolution did not officially countenance physical hostility didn't make them any less "hostile" to the powers from whom they demanded change. The author chooses to put all the "aggression" onto the opposition, when aggression is properly the imposition of principles by one party on another party regarless of their willingness, and regardless of the policy measures chosen for the imposition.

2) Where in the article is the actual exegetical defense of the pacifist position? Where is the author's grappling with the issues and positions defended by the "just-war" tradition? When the author notes Augustin as responsible for formulating an early defense of the latter view, he does not express the view as Augustin must surely have defended it against an older, more entrenched view in the church that frowned on miilitary service by Christians--namely with an exegetical defense. He simply attributes the shift to the change in political fortunes, and rooted in non-biblical thinkers Plato and Cicero, to which Augustin simply added a Christian cast.

Of course, if he is correct then his view doesn't demand an exegetical foundation any more than Augustin's did. All he needs to do is point to a "shift" in politics or social factors, to the threats of the "nuclear age", and to non-biblical thinkers like DMLK and Ghandi (cf. either one to 1Jn.3:18). On this point, the author seems to me to be giving priority to his sociological outlook, and finding plausible analogies in general Bible-themes and in church history, rather than a rigorous Scriptural undertaking--one that might challenge the thesis he brought to the text, in order to see if it held water.

3) Where in the article is the actual biblical case for pacifism? Is he seeking to persuade people who are determined to follow the Bible, no matter where it leads? Or is he simply following the typical approach of modern theologues and moralists who appeal to people's "instincts"? How does the author defend his casual "lumping" of widely divergent movements of Indian nationalism and Danish WWII resistance, when the similarities in terms of "action" are only superficial?

4) Civil disobedience is sinful. How can we build a theory of Christian pacifism aligned with the advocacy of the sort of civil disobedience that was championed by Ghandi and DMLK?

5) This statement is (thankfully) repudiated by the author: "Pacifism is based on optimistic humanism." Good, because this statement is contrary to a biblical humanism. How could we build a prescriptive theory for human behavior if one of the leading postulates was so deeply inverted? Unfortunately, the author never gets around to explaining how a more realistic view of human nature undercuts the apparent need for police and soldiers "bearing the sword."

6) One of the problems of the article is that the author conveniently lumps his opposition together--those who propose absurd or unbiblical objections to his view, along with more sane objections. It has the effect of putting them on a plane, such that in overturning several objections it appears as though the plausibility has evaporated, and there remains only a few, possibly cogent reasons for opposing pacifism; but on balance, the weight has shifted to its support.

7) In several places, the author sounds as though he is also indisposed toward the theory of capital punishment. Once again, unless someone has taken the Anabaptist position that views human government as irredeemable, intrinsically evil (and to be shunned), how can the position of pacifism be consistently Reformed and biblical? This was the position the magesterial reformers condemned as fanatical, as the ovethrow of society. And to whatever degree they were improperly wedded to the mores of the day, they were still correct in their rejection of the Anabaptist anarchical tendency.


If the civil magistrate is a "minister of God" who beareth not the sword in vain, then force--even to deadly force--is proper to his role as a minister of justice under the King of Kings.

Further, I find the author disturbingly vaccilating when it comes to dictating the principles of pacifism to the "oppressed" when they rise up. Why can he not condemn those actions as incompatible with universal principles of pacifism? Why must he instead advocate "solidarity" with those who are "repressed" and are simply acting according to a natural right? Which is it? It sounds to me like nothing more than a kind of elitism that we often encounter among the advantageous moralists.
We who are above and enlightened and free are to maintain our principles in purity; whereas, for the poor and benighted and oppressed--they must be encouraged to throw off their proletarian shackles so that they may rise above their natural debasement, and into the light of the Christian principle, where violence is no longer called for.
Lastly, the conclusions of the article are not "individual" at all. They are almost wholly "social" and "political". The individual's responsibility to be humane and restorative and healing have been submerged in the political will to institute cultural transformation. This is nothing less than the abolition of the gospel. This is the alternative religion of Liberalism, only today it has become the parlance of the Evangelical world.

Theologian J Gresham Machen, also a political libertarian and pacific-minded man--who went to France in 1918 to work not with the war-machine, but with the hospitals and against the evils of war--wrote his book, Christianity and Liberalism to distinguish the former as a religion of gospel-salvation from the latter as a religion of transformation. It's message needs to be heard today.
 

Skyler

Puritan Board Graduate
I find it interesting that you post this in the wake of my own journey out of pacifism.

In some cases, I think, pacifists commit the same mistake as the health/wealth gospel teachers--they conflate the "already" and the "not yet". Of course, everyone agrees that war and violence are bad things that really shouldn't be in existence--just like disease and poverty. But they will be, nonetheless, until the new heavens and earth are brought into existence. Until then, evil men will be in the world, and their evil deeds will need to be punished in order to have a peaceful land (a la Romans 13).

Further, Christians are not forbidden from acting in a governmental capacity. The passages in Matthew 5 that are sometimes interpreted in that light are usually misinterpreted as instituting a change in or addition to the Law.

Is there anything wrong with not participating in government? No. Do we have an obligation not to? Again, I don't think so.

Now, refusing to defend one's family against evildoers is something else entirely, which I do think is the critical implication of pacifism. If pacifism is not true, then in acting "pacifistically" one becomes an accomplice to the evildoer's deeds. On the other hand, if pacifism is true, then when one defends oneself or one's family, he is again breaking the law and doing wrong. So as a doctrine, a wrong view of this does have potentially serious implications.
 

Particular Baptist

Puritan Board Freshman
Hey everyone,

Sorry about not being able to get back to you guys. This article is not why I find myself as mostly pacific. First of all, I began asking myself if Jesus really meant what he said in the sermon on the mount or if he was just theorizing. Bonhoeffer had a HUGE impact on me during this process. I can say that I don't believe Christ was theorizing or making some vague, abstract, principle for us to follow. He really meant what he said, he wasn't being vague. We must remember the way is narrow, not some set of theoretical principles. When Christ stated that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword, he wasn't stating anything other than that. When we love our enemies as ourselves, we must ask ourselves in Christ placed any stipulations upon that love and I find none.

Secondly, I would not say that I am an absolute pacifist, just as Bonhoeffer was not an absolute pacifist. I am interested in Barth's idea of the 'Grenzfall', the exceptional case where resistance might take the form of violence. I understand this may be conflicting with the above paragraph, but I must say that I'm not an absolute pacifist.

Thirdly, in reply to the question about what if someone was trying to hurt a member of my family, I would say that on an individual basis I would assist that person in need. But, if I was the one being attacked, I pray I would flee and resist in a nonviolent way.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
I would not say that I am an absolute pacifist, just as Bonhoeffer was not an absolute pacifist.

How about not at all ;-) He was both a high ranking member of German intel and took steps to kill his country's leader.

If you're going to hold that position, and claim

Jesus really meant what he said in the sermon on the mount

in the sense that the rest of us DON'T think Jesus really meant what He said, you put yourself, as a very young man, into the quite arrogant position of thinking of thinking you have comprehended a truth that the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the ages have been too dense to see. And I don't mean that sarcastically, but just as food for thought.
 

Particular Baptist

Puritan Board Freshman
So, I've been looking more and more online and I found some articles that better explain my own pacifism. I know many of you will be offended at the fact that I have an affection for the neo-orthodox theologians, while not agreeing with much of what they say, neverless I have been influenced by them.

Barth may have said it best that to be a principled pacifist is not Christian, but rather to be a practical pacifist.

Here's an article about Barth's pacifism I found interestinghttp://http://theology.nd.edu/people/research/yoder-john/documents/KARLBARTH.pdf
 

Montanablue

Puritan Board Doctor
Interesting. Thanks for posting. I have been moving more and more towards pacifism in the past few years (although I'm not there yet). What I am more opposed to is militarism and nationalism/imperialism. I'm certainly not convinced that self-defense is unbiblical.
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
What I am more opposed to is militarism and nationalism/imperialism. I'm certainly not convinced that self-defense is unbiblical.
We'll make a Calvinist anarcho capitalistic libertarian out of you yet. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.
 

Particular Baptist

Puritan Board Freshman
How about not at all ;-) He was both a high ranking member of German intel and took steps to kill his country's leader.

Again, sir, I would ask you to reread my position. I am a practical pacifist, not a principled one. I do not believe in abstracts (in most cases) and therefore I can not say that I am an absolute pacifist. I would disagree with you about Bonhoeffer, sir. Read The Cost of Discipleship and I'm sure you will gain better insight into what Bonhoeffer is saying, and understand my own position better. Also, I would say that Bonhoeffer's pacifism is consistent with that of Barth's (who had a major influence on Bonhoeffer) and the idea of Grenzfall, the exceptional case. Another thing that I would remind you is that just because someone is pacific doesn't mean that they are passive, it simply means that they decry the use of violence in most if not all instances.

If you're going to hold that position, and claim in the sense that the rest of us DON'T think Jesus really meant what He said, you put yourself, as a very young man, into the quite arrogant position of thinking of thinking you have comprehended a truth that the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the ages have been too dense to see. And I don't mean that sarcastically, but just as food for thought.

I'm sorry if I've offended you. You are correct, I am young but I will not allow myself to be moved away from what I see as a quite literal command in scripture to love our neighbor as ourself. Jesus himself did not resist when he was led away to be crucified. If anyone had the right to use violence, surely it was he. Even when Judas was betraying him and gave him the kiss on the cheek, Christ himself called Judas his friend. I just don't see our allegiance as to anyone but Christ and his commands should be given full authority. He never placed any preconditions on the love we are to show others, even our enemies, so why should we pretend to have interpreted Christ in a way that does?
 

TimV

Puritanboard Botanist
Also, I would say that Bonhoeffer's pacifism is consistent with that of Barth's

Joshua nailed it from a theological view point. From a practical viewpoint, looking for personal consistency in the lives of Barthians will disappoint you.
 

Skyler

Puritan Board Graduate
If you're going to hold that position, and claim in the sense that the rest of us DON'T think Jesus really meant what He said, you put yourself, as a very young man, into the quite arrogant position of thinking of thinking you have comprehended a truth that the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the ages have been too dense to see. And I don't mean that sarcastically, but just as food for thought.

I'm sorry if I've offended you. You are correct, I am young but I will not allow myself to be moved away from what I see as a quite literal command in scripture to love our neighbor as ourself. Jesus himself did not resist when he was led away to be crucified. If anyone had the right to use violence, surely it was he. Even when Judas was betraying him and gave him the kiss on the cheek, Christ himself called Judas his friend. I just don't see our allegiance as to anyone but Christ and his commands should be given full authority. He never placed any preconditions on the love we are to show others, even our enemies, so why should we pretend to have interpreted Christ in a way that does?

I'm curious as to whether or not you would agree that Jesus' commands were a reiteration of/clarification of the Mosaic Law, clearing away the Pharisees' misinterpretations and twisting of Scripture.

If that's the case, then to say that punishing evildoers is inconsistent with Jesus' words is to say that the Mosaic Law was inconsistent with itself, since it prescribe punishing evildoers and clearly permitted self-defense. (I will provide references if you need them, but I'm sure you've already found them if you've done any serious study of pacifism.)

If not, then to what was Jesus referring when he said "You have heard that it has been said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy"? (Loose Paraphrase Translation) I have found the first half (love your neighbor) in the Old Testament, but not the second.

Most, if not all, of the passages cited in support of pacifism actually have their roots in the Old Testament--the "love your neighbor" passages, for example, or the "vengeance is mine" passages. This being the case, biblical "pacifism" is equally practicable under the civil portions of the Mosaic Law as it is today. It should, therefore, be defined with this in mind. Right?
 

smhbbag

Puritan Board Senior
It was my understanding that we are not permitted to argue against the confessions. We may question, probe, and understand, yes, but not argue directly against.

As a credobaptist, the OP is asserting that the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith deviates from the scriptures.

In 24.2, The Civil Magistrate, we find:

It is lawful for Christians to accept and carry out the duties of a magistrate when called upon. In the performance of such office they are particularly responsible for maintaining justice and peace by application of the right and beneficial laws of the nation. Also, to maintain justice and peace, they may lawfully (under the New Testament) engage in war if it is just and essential.

Have I misinterpreted the rules?
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I am of the opinion that Jesus, in mentioning eye-for-eye, etc., was correcting a misapplication that eye-for-eye applies to individuals. If you actually read it in Leviticus and others, it is clearly intended for the magistrate to carry out eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth, life-for-life, etc. This rule was never given to govern personal relationships. Thus Jesus corrected their behavior of taking vengeance in personal relationships.

So to sum up:

In personal relationships, turn the other cheek.
In an act of the government, let the punishment fit the crime.
 

Particular Baptist

Puritan Board Freshman
In personal relationships, turn the other cheek.
In an act of the government, let the punishment fit the crime.

I would say that you are right, in that Christ is dealing with individuals when he discusses the beatitudes. However, to many on this board, a Christian is to behave differently in a governmental role than he is to as an individual Christian. I find this absurd. You cannot serve 2 masters. You cannot have one set of morales in one capacity and others in another capacity. We serve one Lord and our allegiance is to him and him alone, not to him on our own time and to the government if we are elected to political office or taking part in some civic activity!! We are not believers in one arena and apathetic or secular in another part of life. I refuse to believe that our allegiance should be divided.

Practicing Pacifism - properly defined (i.e. all violence is unjustifiable) - is a gross violation of the 6th Commandment, since it is our duty to protect our families/neighbours, etc. from unjust harm. It is just as wicked as killing non-combatants and writing it off as "collateral damage" or "the price of war," particularly because it's under the guise of being pious.

Joshua, please read my above quote when I specifically deal with this issue. I stated that I would assist someone else who was being attacked by another human being.

I'm curious as to whether or not you would agree that Jesus' commands were a reiteration of/clarification of the Mosaic Law, clearing away the Pharisees' misinterpretations and twisting of Scripture.

If that's the case, then to say that punishing evildoers is inconsistent with Jesus' words is to say that the Mosaic Law was inconsistent with itself, since it prescribe punishing evildoers and clearly permitted self-defense. (I will provide references if you need them, but I'm sure you've already found them if you've done any serious study of pacifism.)

If not, then to what was Jesus referring when he said "You have heard that it has been said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy"? (Loose Paraphrase Translation) I have found the first half (love your neighbor) in the Old Testament, but not the second.

Most, if not all, of the passages cited in support of pacifism actually have their roots in the Old Testament--the "love your neighbor" passages, for example, or the "vengeance is mine" passages. This being the case, biblical "pacifism" is equally practicable under the civil portions of the Mosaic Law as it is today. It should, therefore, be defined with this in mind. Right?

Skyler, we must first make the distinctions between the Mosaic Law, which was given to ethnic NATIONAL Israel, and the Law of the Spirit or Christ, which is given to the Church. The Church, the Israel of God, is not a national, governmental, or civic organization therefore, I would hope that you can see that the Church does not have the same authority that a government would have to wield the sword. The Church is strictly a spiritual community of disciples. I would then ask those on this board if they can separate their lives between governmental roles and their roles as disciples of Christ? If so, please tell me how you can serve two masters.

Let me restate some things that I have, admittedly, not made clear.

1.) I am not against using force in helping other individual(s) who are being attacked. I agree that this is biblical.

2.) I am against using violence to protect one's self, I find it no where in Scripture that the New Covenant Church or its members are to use force to protect itself.

3.) I believe it unscriptural for believers to be engaged in any form of violent revolution (such as the Revolutionary War in America) against the governments above them.

4.) I believe that the overwhelming majority of wars are fought on unjust grounds and therefore most Christians who advocate the just war theory have a hard time in finding examples of just war. World War II would be the only example that I can think of in this instance, and even then I myself object to actions taken in that war such as the dropping of the Atomic Bomb.

Another thing that most peope don't know is that both Tertullian and Origen wrote tracts against Christians joining the military. The "pagan philosopher Celsus criticized Christians for shirking their civic duties by not participating in the armed forces, which he feared would lead to barbarian conquest and therefore the end of civilization and the pax romana if too many Roman men became Christians, and ironically destroy the Christian religion itself." Also, why weren't any of the apostles in scripture in the military or in any governmental posts? If Christ wanted Christians to persue such political change, as well as military change, why didn't he be the Messiah that the Jews desired him to be and throw off the chains of Rome? It appears to me that there is an inconsistency in a Reformed tradition that critisizes the Jews who desired a political Messiah when most in the Reformed tradition, including Calvin and others, see such a religious political order as almost Orthodox. If Christ's kingdom was of this world then why didn't his disciples take up arms and fight for it?

Lastly, to those of you who think that I'm going against some confession as if that confession were infallible I respond by saying that you might very well be right, that I could be very wrong and in error on this issue and I pray for you're guidance if I am in error. But please do not use the confession as some sort of sacred writing which cannot be deviated from.
 

N. Eshelman

Puritan Board Senior
It looks like the Westminster Divines had a thing or two to say about pacifism... not only is it a wrong philosophical position, it is also unbiblical, unconfessional, and MAY have 6th commandment violations written all over it:

Question 134: Which is the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.

Question 135: What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?
Answer: The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

Question 136: What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life; sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge;all excessive passions, distracting cares; immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations; provoking words, oppression, quarreling, striking, wounding, and: Whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
In personal relationships, turn the other cheek.
In an act of the government, let the punishment fit the crime.

I would say that you are right, in that Christ is dealing with individuals when he discusses the beatitudes. However, to many on this board, a Christian is to behave differently in a governmental role than he is to as an individual Christian. I find this absurd. You cannot serve 2 masters. You cannot have one set of morales in one capacity and others in another capacity. We serve one Lord and our allegiance is to him and him alone, not to him on our own time and to the government if we are elected to political office or taking part in some civic activity!! We are not believers in one arena and apathetic or secular in another part of life. I refuse to believe that our allegiance should be divided.

You are talking about two different things. If God gave specific roles to the government and different specific roles to private individuals in their personal relationships, then it isn't "serving two masters" to carry out both faithfully. For instance, a judge can hand out the death penalty in court, but not in his private life. This isn't serving two masters. It's serving the one master who inspired both Rom. 13 and the Sermon on the Mount.
 

Particular Baptist

Puritan Board Freshman
The judge example could be an example. I would ask myself in any situation what did Christ and his disciples do when placed in a similar situation. If I were a policeman and I were being attacked would it be biblical to use violence to defend myself? Jesus said turn the other cheek. Stephen did not resist when he was being stoned. Paul was stoned, though he survived. Did Christ tell Peter and the other disciples to fight when the soldiers came to arrest Christ in the garden? No, on the contrary he rebuked Peter's use of aggression when he tried to defend Christ himself! When Paul was attacked many times in cities after preaching the gospel did he retalitate with violence? I find NO instance in the New Testament where a Christian was called upon to use force to defend one's self. Moreover, we never find any Christian going INTO a position of government authority or the military.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
The judge example could be an example. I would ask myself in any situation what did Christ and his disciples do when placed in a similar situation. If I were a policeman and I were being attacked would it be biblical to use violence to defend myself? Jesus said turn the other cheek. Stephen did not resist when he was being stoned. Paul was stoned, though he survived. Did Christ tell Peter and the other disciples to fight when the soldiers came to arrest Christ in the garden? No, on the contrary he rebuked Peter's use of aggression when he tried to defend Christ himself! When Paul was attacked many times in cities after preaching the gospel did he retalitate with violence? I find NO instance in the New Testament where a Christian was called upon to use force to defend one's self. Moreover, we never find any Christian going INTO a position of government authority or the military.

None of your examples involve Christian government officers except perhaps the policeman, so they're irrelevant to my point. The bolded statement is true, but doesn't give the full picture. There were multiple Christians involved in government and military in Scripture, and they didn't quit.

Regarding the judge's job, Paul (the one who endured the stoning you mentioned - twice actually, if I'm not mistaken) is clear:

Romans 13:4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

And regarding your statement "Jesus said to turn the other cheek," I addressed this already. Jesus said he came not to abolish the law. So eye-for-eye and tooth-for-tooth stands for governments. He told ordinary people, in their personal relationships, not to take vengeance, but to turn the other cheek. He was correcting their false idea that eye-for-eye applies in their daily interactions.
 

Particular Baptist

Puritan Board Freshman
You are talking about two different things. If God gave specific roles to the government and different specific roles to private individuals in their personal relationships, then it isn't "serving two masters" to carry out both faithfully. For instance, a judge can hand out the death penalty in court, but not in his private life. This isn't serving two masters. It's serving the one master who inspired both Rom. 13 and the Sermon on the Mount.

I believe you are confusing Christ's words as well as Paul's. Romans 13 does not deal with those who are Christians, but with the earthly government under which Christians live. Christians are to understand that governments are ordained by God but they are not to understand that they can have different moral conclusions based upon their role at a specific time. The only context that Paul's words are given is to those who are not in governmental authority, but those who are under the authority of that government. If we believe that God ordains everything, including evil, does that mean that Christians are free to do evil in certain realms?
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Spencer:

Your argument about serving two masters is like an egalitarian arguing that since we are all one in Christ women should be able to serve in church offices. Men and women are equal before the Lord with respect to salvation, but that does not mean that they don't serve Him in different functions and different ways. There is no contradiction here either: Christ is Lord over all, but this does not mean that we are called to recognize His Lordship in every aspect of life in exactly the same way.

Or, to use the words of Jesus, the law requires mercy AND justice. (Matthew 23:23 cf. Luke 11:42) Seeking to punish another human being according to God's direction (i.e. the law) is not a contradiction of the command to love one's neighbour. Both are commands from God and both must be followed. Wisdom will seek to apply the one in the right context and right balance but, nevertheless, they will continue to exist side by side until our Lord returns again. If we fail to exact justice by the proper means (government) we will all lose out, even Christians.
 

au5t1n

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
You are talking about two different things. If God gave specific roles to the government and different specific roles to private individuals in their personal relationships, then it isn't "serving two masters" to carry out both faithfully. For instance, a judge can hand out the death penalty in court, but not in his private life. This isn't serving two masters. It's serving the one master who inspired both Rom. 13 and the Sermon on the Mount.

I believe you are confusing Christ's words as well as Paul's. Romans 13 does not deal with those who are Christians, but with the earthly government under which Christians live. Christians are to understand that governments are ordained by God but they are not to understand that they can have different moral conclusions based upon their role at a specific time. The only context that Paul's words are given is to those who are not in governmental authority, but those who are under the authority of that government. If we believe that God ordains everything, including evil, does that mean that Christians are free to do evil in certain realms?

An unbelieving judge executing a convicted murderer (just as God had commanded his own people in the OT as well) is a "minister of God," but a believer in that role is sinning to do the same? A judge who will not use the DP against murderers has blood on his hands (if he is legally able to give it and it is a legitimate, intentional murder). He shares responsibilty for the increase in murder of innocent people that will occur. He may be a pacifist, but he is not peaceful. Peace would be protecting the innocent.
 

Claudiu

Puritan Board Junior
How would you back up your pacifist stance as being biblical if someone pointed out the example of the Jews settling their land with the sword when coming out of Egypt into their promised land? Jw.
 

PuritanZealot

Puritan Board Freshman
Must say I'm surprised to see a dicussion of pacifism on a Reformed forum, what with our history of persecution by the Papacy and by other less 'reformed' Protestants.
The key things that stick out for me from scripture are the comments above about the centurions and soldiers not changing their jobs or being told to change their jobs, Jesus not bringing up the fact that violence was 'wrong' on the Sermon on the Mount and the fact that he said quite plainly 'I come not to bring peace but a sword'.
From OT I think there are key scriptures to think of, when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and saw the destruction of the Egyptians their first words after praising God by name were 'Lord is a Warrior'. David was often called a man after God's own heart and if the Trinity is a three way personality of a single God (which it is) then that means the Holy Spirit is also a warrior, fighting battles against Satan and Jesus is also a warrior, returning with his sword and rod of iron to smite the nations...and aren't we supposed to emulate Messiah in everything?
Finally I think the OT has it in Leviticus 19:16, 'do not stand by your brothers/neighbours blood'. Some of the abominable translations like that heretical travesty the NIV have it as 'do not cause your neighbour trouble', which is insane given the original hebrew context. But that scriptures says it all, we are commanded not to stand by whilst our brother is murdered or harmed. Jesus would have mentioned that being changed if he wanted it to be.
Finally, historically if the Reformation leaders had stood by and encouraged the protestant laity to give up and all be martyrs we wouldn't have ever stood up against the Papacy and created protestant countries. A man isn't to watch his neighbour die or suffer, so a Church isn't to stand by and watch brethren suffer, so a protestant nation isn't to stand by and watch its people suffer. It all goes in circles, as a Reformed Baptist I would think it goes with the territory not only to condone righteous Biblically sound resistance but to encourage it...as long as it is 100% Biblically approved.
Knox would agree.
 
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