“The only people on earth who do not see Christ and His teachings as nonviolent are Christians.” – Mohandas Gandhi
A Brief History of ‘Christian’ Violence
The history of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and mainstream Protestant churches has been one of whole-hearted support for violence and war. Mohandas Gandhi, the man of peace, observed that this was in direct contradiction to Jesus’ own teachings. If this is true, it is a stinging indictment of those who profess to be Jesus’ disciples.
We will consider some highlights from the Church’s shameful record.
The Crusades (1095 – 1365)
Paul Johnson, in A History of Christianity, p. 245, writes concerning the Crusades, which were instigated by the Roman Catholic Church:
“From the start, then, the crusades were marked by depredations and violence which were as much racial as religious in origin. Mass-gatherings of Christians for any purpose invariably constituted a danger to Jewish communities in European cities…”
“Dark-skinned people, or even those who simply wore conspicuously different garments, were at risk. The fall of Jerusalem was followed by a prolonged and hideous massacre of Moslems and Jews, men women and children…When Caesarea was taken in 1101, the troops were given permission to sack it as they pleased, and all the Moslem inhabitants were killed in the Great Mosque; there was a similar massacre at Beirut. Such episodes punctuated the crusades from start to finish.”
“The last of the great international crusades, in 1365, spent itself on a pointless sacking of the predominantly Christian city of Alexandria: native Christians were killed as well as Jews and Moslems, and even the Latin traders had their houses and stores looted.”
The crusades represent only a sampling of the violence and war the Catholic Church has been involved in since Constantine. Protestants often point to this shameful record as evidence of corruption, even labeling the Catholic Church and its Popes as the “Anti-Christ”. But is their record any better?
Martin Luther (Peasant’s revolt – 1524)
Martin Luther protested against the corrupt Roman Catholic Church, criticizing it for its selling of indulgences (certificates to forgive sins in advance). For this he is to be commended. However, when the peasants, taking their cue from him, vented their anger at both the Catholic clergy as well as the corrupt ruling elite, Luther felt things were getting out of hand—that his movement might be jeopardized if the German princes associated him with the peasant’s revolt. Johnson, on p.283 writes:
“[Luther] asked the princes ‘to brandish their swords, to free, save, help and pity the poor people forced to join the peasants—but the wicked, smite, stab and slay all that you can.’ ‘These times are so extraordinary that a prince can win heaven more easily by bloodshed than by prayer.’ ‘You cannot meet a rebel with reason: your best answer is to punch him in the face until he has a bloody nose.’…Thereafter, Luther always marched in step with his secular backers.”
By his partnering with the German princes, and his pointed and shameless suggestion to use violence and slaughter against the peasants, Luther demonstrated that he was no better than the Catholic Church he condemned. His suggestion that the princes could “win heaven more easily by bloodshed than by prayer”, flew in the face of the entire body of teaching of Jesus and his apostles. The love and humility of Christ was conspicuously absent from his heart. An estimated 100,000 peasants were slaughtered by the German armies on Luther’s recommendation.
Ulrich Zwingli (Zurich, 1520’s):
In league with the government of Zurich, Switzerland, Zwingli fiercely persecuted the Anabaptists. He burned them at the stake and drowned them in the river. Their crime? Daring to re-baptize adults who had become believers (infant baptism was mandatory). Anabaptists also taught separation of Church and State, and neutrality in war. They forbid their members to join the army or serve as Justices. Zwingli, on the other hand, partnered with the state and supported their wars. Regarding the execution of Michael Sattler, an Anabaptist leader, William R. Estep writes in The Anabaptist Story, p. 72:
“The torture, a prelude to the execution, began at the marketplace, where a piece was cut from Sattler’s tongue. Pieces of flesh were torn from his body twice with red-hot tongs. He was then forged to a cart. On the way to the scene of the execution the tongs were applied five times again. In the marketplace and at the site of the execution, still able to speak, the unshakable Sattler prayed for his persecutors. After being bound to a ladder with ropes and pushed into the fire, he admonished the people, the judges, and the mayor to repent and be converted. Then he prayed, “Almighty, eternal God, Thou art the way and the truth: because I have not been shown to be in error, I will with thy help to this day testify to the truth and seal it with my blood.”
Three others were executed afterwards. Eight days later, after failing to get a recantation, Sattler’s wife was drowned in the Neckar River. These are just a few examples of the many Anabaptists and others that perished under Ulrich Zwingli, the so-called ‘Christian’ reformer.
Zwingli is foolishly considered to be one of the bright lights of the Reformation by many Protestants. By his actions, however, he identifies himself as a son of the Devil (John 8:44). In a sure case of divine retribution, Zwingli died in battle on October 11, 1531. His body was found among the other corpses, drawn and quartered and covered in dung. The Lord’s words were thus fulfilled: “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” (Mt 26:52). The hypocrite Martin Luther used these same words when he heard the news of the demise of his rival.
John Calvin (Geneva, 1553)
Go into any Christian bookstore or theological library, and you will see many volumes of bible commentary written by John Calvin. Several Protestant denominations are founded on his writings. He is seen as a great Protestant leader and theologian. Yet Calvin’s treatment of Michael Servetus reveals more about the man than most Protestants realize.
Michael Servetus was a brilliant scholar, physician, geographer and theologian. He published several theological works which contradicted Calvin’s teachings. Calvin was furious with him, and wrote to a friend that if Servetus was ever to came to Geneva, Calvin would ensure he would never leave alive.
Servetus, fleeing from the Catholics in France, passed through Geneva on his way to Italy. Calvin was in league with the civil authorities in that city and ran it like a tyrant. He had Servetus arrested and personally managed the prosecution of him—even appearing in court on several occasions in the role of lead prosecutor. Servetus was found guilty of heresy and was burned at the stake. Like Luther and Zwingli, Calvin showed by his actions what was truly in his heart, and it was not the love of the Christ (Mark 7:21).
American Civil War (1861 – 1865)
The Civil war began when eleven Southern states declared secession from the Union and President Lincoln refused to let them to leave. Of course in war, a moral pretext must be found before people are slaughtered. Our side must be in the right and have God’s blessing, and the other side must be in the wrong and be evil. Of course both sides paint each other with the same brush. The North found a rationale in the South’s practice of slavery. The Southern states responded by claiming slavery is biblical—that even the apostle Paul did not demand masters to free slaves (Philemon 1:10-21).
So the battle lines were drawn. Catholics and Protestants divided along the North-South axis. Baptists, Congregationalists, Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and others split and then proceeded to slaughter one other. Paul Johnson (p. 438), writes:
“To judge by the many hundreds of sermons and specially-composed church prayers which have survived, ministers were among the most fanatical on both sides. The churches played a major role in the dividing of the nation, and it is probably true that it was the splits in the churches which made a final split of the nation inevitable…Thus Christianity on both sides contributed to the million casualties and 600,000 dead.”
It seems these Christians only loved their brothers until their respective governments told them otherwise. And they followed their leaders with patriotic fervor—egged on from the pulpits by their crazed pastors, ministers and priests. One wonders if there would have been a civil war if Christians had insisted on not fighting one.
The Twentieth Century
In the First and Second World Wars, Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants, atheists, and others slaughtered each other in a vicious flurry of violence. 15.6 million were killed in World War I—half the population of Canada; 62 million in World War II. The churches helped in army recruitment, loudly proclaiming their respective side was in the right and had God’s blessing. The church leaders on both sides sent their flocks to kill others in their own denominations! The members of these churches were only brethren until their respective governments told them to go forth and kill. Loyalty to Christ and the Kingdom of God, which is “No part of this world” (John 18:36) seems to have been completely forgotten.
Since WWII, the ‘Christian’ United States has bombed 20 countries. 75 – 100 million have died in wars or have been murdered by governments, many of them professing a Christian society. One wonders what the world’s history of war and violence would have been if professed Christians had behaved like Jesus and his apostles.
Invasion of Iraq (2003)
The reasons for the invasion given by the U.S. government were:
- Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and would use them against the U.S.
- Sadaam Hussein was responsible for 9/11
- Iraq was pursuing nuclear weapons
Sadly, many U.S. churches fully supported this war—especially the evangelical conservatives. To their shame they helped beat the war drums and supported their government in its illegal (under international law) escapade. As usual, when the choice between obeying Christ and obeying the rulers of this world was presented, the corrupt Church chose the rulers of this world.
As we know now, all the reasons for going to war were proven false. The 9/11 Commission Report, prepared by Congress and signed by President Bush, a ‘born again Christian’, showed no connection between Sadaam Hussein and 9/11. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and the charge that Hussein had purchased enriched uranium from Niger proved to be a lie; no doubt propagated as a pretext for invasion. Nearly 3,000 Americans and an estimated 50,000 – 100,000 Iraqis, mostly civilians, are dead as of December, 2006; and counting. And little reported is the fact that Iraq is home to several hundred thousand Christians—many who perished from the bombs from ‘Christian’ America. Certainly Sadaam Hussein was an evil dictator, but he was not responsible for 9/11, had no W.M.D. and no nuclear material. The thousands of dead and their grieving families have suffered in vain. The real reason for invading Iraq, seldom reported, was to gain control of Iraq’s oil and to set up permanent American military bases—to further American interests in the Middle East. But this is not a good public reason for slaughtering people, especially fellow Christians, so a more ‘moral’ one had to be found—one which now is shown clearly to be a lie.
The Iraq war has exposed the grave moral failings of both the U.S. government, America’s corrupt church systems, and the roughly 50% of the ‘Christian’ American public who wholeheartedly supported the war. Shame on them. They should have learned from Zwingli’s catastrophe.
What Did Jesus and the Apostles Teach?
As Christians, we are disciples of Jesus. He is our leader, teacher, savior and King. He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commands (Jn 14:15). Jesus and his apostles taught us to:
- Turn the other cheek; love your enemies (Mt 5:38-45)
- You shall love the Lord your God…[and] your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37-40) [your neighbor includes neighboring countries]
- Put your sword away…all who take the sword will perish by the sword (Mt 26:52)
- Blessed are the peacemakers (Mt 5:9)
- Forgive others and your Heavenly Father will forgive you (Mt 6:14)
- Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not (Ro 12:14)
- Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. (Ro 12:17)…be at peace with all men (:18)
- But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink (:20)
- Overcome evil with good (:21)
- Pursue peace with all men (He 12:14)
- Treat others the same way you want them to treat you (Lk 6:31)
- But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Lk 6:27)
- You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (Ja 4:4)
- A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:34-35)
- Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1Pt 3:9)
- He who does not love Me does not keep My words (Jn 14:24)
It should be obvious that taking a weapon and killing someone in war, especially if that person is a fellow Christian, is a violation of all these commandments. Strangely, most churches and most professed Christians are unable to discern this. It is amazing to see the degree of twisted argumentation employed to justify disobedience to God’s Messiah, while they simultaneously claim loyalty to him. By disobeying Jesus and his apostles, we prove we do not love him, and are therefore not his disciple (Jn 14:15). This may seem harsh, but these are the teachings of our Lord and Savior. The shocking but inevitable conclusion is that churches who support war, and this includes most of them, are apostate churches—Jesus does not know them. When Jesus returns, there will be many who claim to be Christian, but will be completely rejected by the Messiah:
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?’ "And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Mt 7:21-23)
Jesus declared that, “My Kingdom is not part of this world…otherwise my followers would have fought that I would not be delivered up to the Jews” (Jn 18:36) Yet the churches insist on fighting for the kingdoms of this world in violation of his explicit commands. We must ask: If Jesus did not allow his disciples to fight for God’s Kingdom and its King when he was arrested (he told Peter to “Put down the sword”), why would he allow them to fight for the world’s kingdoms, which are opposed to God’s rule, and in effect allow his sheep to kill each other? Can you see how absurd this is? True followers of Christ must obey the teachings of the Lord Jesus, even if the majority of professed Christians do not. Again, we quote Gandhi, who is probably representative of the majority of this world’s view of professed Christianity:
“The only people on earth who do not see Christ and His teachings as nonviolent are Christians.”
This is a shocking indictment from someone, a non-Christian, who was educated in law in Great Britain, and was familiar with Jesus’ teachings. Gandhi was able to fight violence and oppression with nothing more than pacifism and resolve. He puts most Christians and their churches to shame. In fact, Gandhi was unknowingly obeying Christ while most churches do not.
What Gandhi probably didn’t know was that there are Christians who do obey Jesus and who are nonviolent. Sadly, they are the minority. And yet, there was a time when most Christians took a different view of war and violence.
Testimony of Early Christians
Although today most churches support war, the early Christians, who were much closer to the apostles than us, did not.
Justin Martyr (100 – 165 C.E.) – “We who filled with war and mutual slaughter and every wickedness have each of us in all the world changed our weapons of war…swords into plows and spears into agricultural implements…We who formerly murdered one another now not only do not make war upon our enemies, but that we may not lie or deceive our judges, we gladly die confessing Christ.”
Tertullian (155-230 C.E.) – “Christ in disarming Peter ungirt [removed the belt and sword of] every soldier.”
Origen (185-254 C.E.) – “We Christians no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn to make war any more, having become children of peace for the sake of Jesus who is our leader.”
Cyprian (died 258) – “The whole world is wet with mutual blood. Murder, which is admitted to be a crime when it is committed by an individual, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds [of war], not because they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale.”
Arnobius (died 330 C.E.) – “For since we in such numbers have learned from the precepts and laws of Christ not to repay evil for evil, to endure injury rather than to inflict it, to shed our own blood rather than to stain our hands and conscience with the blood of another…”
Edward Gibbon, in The Christians and the Fall of Rome, writes regarding the Christians prior to Constantine, p.50:
“The Christians felt and confessed, that such institutions [governments] might be necessary for the present system of the world, and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their Pagan governors. But while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defense of the empire. Some indulgence might perhaps be allowed for persons who, before their conversion, were already engaged in such violent and sanguinary occupations; but is was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.”
Christianity prior to Constantine (early fourth century) did not engage in war. The Kingdom was seen as separate from this earth’s governmental systems. According to Gibbon, p. 29-30:
“The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ…and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon earth…”
The early Christians did not support war because they understood God’s Kingdom to be no part of this world, as Jesus himself had clearly taught. They saw the world’s governments as temporary, imperfect, and sometimes evil, but necessary structures for the present age. They peacefully and patiently awaited the return of Christ and the setting up of his rule over the earth—the consummation of the Kingdom of God.
So what went wrong?
The Corruption of Christianity
Gibbon, on pages 51 – 64, describes the process whereby the original and innocent apostolic church was transformed slowly but steadily into the corrupt Roman Catholic Church beginning with Constantine.
The corruption began with the slow drift away from apostolic model. Congregations went from being led by a body of elders with equal authority to a single Bishop. The office of Bishop changed from presbyter, a servant elder, to governor. Bishops began increasing their span of control and prestige; the greater prestige of the city, the greater the prestige of the Bishop.
By the end of the second century, Greek and Asian churches adopted synods (councils). Councils soon superseded local ecclesia; congregational autonomy was lost. Imperceptibly, the prelates of the third century changed their language from exhortation to command. They had transformed from servants to dictators. A clergy-laity distinction was now evident. The original scriptural model of all believers being brothers, a “priesthood of the faithful” was abolished. In time, a hierarchy among bishops developed. Rome emerged as the leading city, claiming Peter and Paul’s martyrdom. The prestige and power of the Roman Bishop became superior to that of the other bishops. The Roman Bishop would eventually become the Pope—supreme leader of the entire Roman Catholic Church.
In the early fourth century, Constantine saw that the Church could be used as the glue to hold his empire together. But he would first have to establish a common doctrine and win the loyalty of the Bishops. As it turned out, the Bishops were more than happy to prostitute themselves in the service of the state, in return for temporal blessings. The few that resisted, mostly supporters of the humble, anti-Trinitarian priest Arias, were banished and persecuted. Constantine ensured that the new, institutionalized and tamed Church would become the state religion of Rome.
The corruption of Christianity was now complete. For the next twelve hundred years or so, true Christianity would exist only in small pockets and isolated communities. Like the Jews, exiled to Babylon, these bright lights of the true faith would keep the Way alive through the dark ages. These heroic representatives of Christ would maintain their neutrality in the world’s conflicts, despite vicious persecution. Jesus continued to be represented by various courageous individuals, like Tyndale, Huss and Wycliffe, as well as movements like the Waldenses, Socinians, Unitarians, Polish Brethren, Anabaptists, Quakers, various Brethren churches and others, who were often viciously persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants alike.
In the fourth century, a gifted Roman Catholic church leader arose. Augustine (354–430 C.E.) is considered by many to be the most influential ‘Christian’ of all time. He developed the so-called “Just War Theory”:
“We do not seek peace in order to be at war, but we go to war that we may have peace. Be peaceful, therefore, in warring, so that you may vanquish those whom you war against, and bring them to the prosperity of peace.”
The Catholic Church now had an intellectual foundation, or more accurately, a rationalization, for supporting governments in their wars. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), considered another leading Church intellectual, developed the Just War Theory further. The Protestants at the Reformation rejected the camel of indulgences and Popery, but gulped down the elephant of Just War. And so it continues to our time. Protestants and Catholics alike continue to slaughter each other in violation of Jesus’ commands, each side claiming their cause is the “Just” one. The Peace churches are few and far between.
Why Do Churches Support War?
The question needs to be asked: If Jesus and his apostles taught nonviolence, and the early Christians did not support war, why do the majority of churches today continue to support it?
One reason is a misunderstanding of the Kingdom—thinking it is part of this world, not separate from this world. In this view, the Kingdom is spread through the work of the Church in the world, and how better to do this work than to partner with the government, who have the resources and power to accelerate the process? Anyone who resists is necessarily resisting God, in this view, and so the Church can do no wrong. Church-state union results, which inevitably leads to corruption of the church. We have seen some of the evil that results from church-state union and now have a much better appreciation for the wisdom of the principle of separation of church and state. The early Christians understood that God’s Kingdom was “no part of this world.” We need to understand this as well.
Another reason is mistakenly thinking our country is a “godly” country and the competitor is “evil”. In the book of Daniel, we see that all countries are “violent beasts” in vicious competition with each other (see chapter 7). Daniel shows that these beast-like powers will continue to thrive and war with one another until Jesus returns for judgment. The inescapable conclusion is that our own country is also a figurative “wild beast”, not a “special” property of God. To believe that somehow only our country is God’s country is a dangerous delusion. True Christians understand this trap and stay neutral in the political conflicts of the world. They obey Christ and patiently await his return. Their loyalty is to God’s Kingdom, not to this world’s kingdoms.
Lack of faith is another reason. Christians may grow tired of waiting for Jesus to return, and begin taking matters into their own hands instead of trusting God. Corruption then sets in–corruption to the point of losing connection with God and not doing His will any longer. Corruption to the point where a professed Christian can kill another Christian and believe he is doing God’s will (Jn 16:2). “If that light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” (Mt 6:23)
A final reason, related to a lack of faith, is a carnal view of Christianity and this life. Instead of patiently waiting for Christ to return, while storing up “treasures in heaven”, many professed Christians want their reward now. They want material blessings. They want power. They want fame. They want position. They want to be seen as righteous or wise before men. They wish to get the most out of this life and preserve what they have accumulated. Once they have accumulated carnal treasures, they will fight to protect it. They forget Jesus’ words:
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Mt 16:24-26)
The churches need to separate themselves from this world and get back to the teachings and the life of Jesus.
The following are common objections to the neutrality position by those Christians who support war.
What if the U.S. had not stopped Hitler? We would now be living under an oppressive pagan dictatorship!
“What if” scenarios are guesswork at best. We don’t really know what would have happened if the U.S. had not entered WWII. Germany and Russia may very well have finished each other off, and there would not have been a Cold War or a build-up of nuclear arsenals. Perhaps democracy would have won the day world wide. “What if” scenarios can work both ways.
This objection really shows a lack of faith in God who “…is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whoever he wishes.” (Dan 4:25). Do we really believe this and trust God, or do we demonstrate our lack of faith by taking matters into our own hands?
What if someone attacked your family? What if they did unspeakable evil things to individuals in your family, or your friends?
If we are really Jesus’ disciples, we will obey him and “not return evil for evil.” We could try to stop the person without seriously hurting them, if possible. We could help the victim flee. We could stand between the perpetrator and the victim. If we really have faith, we could pray emphatically for God’s help. However, like Jesus and his apostles, we should be ready to suffer for the faith and for our principles of peace rather than violating Jesus’ commands. We should patiently await the coming of the Kingdom, either in this life or later, in the resurrection, when God will “wipe every tear from their eyes; death will be no more, nor mourning nor outcry; the former things have passed away.” (Rev 21:1-5). We are called to a higher spiritual purpose in Christ, and should demonstrate this by our behavior.
“What if” scenarios can work both ways as well. What if John Huss, while being led to the stake to be burned alive, pulled out a hidden knife, killed the executioner, stabbed the evil Catholic leaders who falsely accused him, and ran off into the woods and escaped? What if he started an armed resistance movement and decimated the Catholic armies? Would he still be considered a saint today? If not, why not? Churches today propose Christians do the same thing!
Or, what if Jesus’ disciples fought so that he would not be delivered up to the Jews? As a King didn’t Jesus have the right to fight for his Kingdom?
“My Kingdom is no part of this world.”
Has Jesus changed his mind? Are Christians now to fight, often against each other, for God’s Kingdom, or for the carnal governments of this world? Absurd!
What if all Americans disarmed? Would we not be taken over by evildoers?
It’s unlikely all Americans would disarm (the true Christian road is narrow, and few find it – Mt 7:14), but if they did, it could result in the greatest Christian witness of all time. It could have a powerful effect for the good on the rest of the world, setting a sterling example of faith and peace. Next to the first advent of Jesus Christ, it would be the most remarkable historical event ever.
Or, we could be taken over by the same kind of tyranny America has supported in South Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Guatemala and so many other places. It’s ok if we do it to them, but it’s not ok if they do it to us. This is called hypocrisy in the gospels.
Doesn’t the OT support war?
It is true that God allowed the Israelites to wage war in some cases:
· To secure the Promised Land and punish enemies of God
· To rid the land of extreme wickedness, such as the Canaanites, who sacrificed their own children to false gods
· To create biblical patterns of future judgment for the stubbornly wicked
· To demonstrate that God’s justice based on Law, without a Messiah to intervene, was righteous but severe
· To demonstrate we need Jesus Christ and his loving mediator-ship
God’s original purpose was to have humans live in peace in the Garden of Eden. It was the introduction of sin and corruption by our first parents that led to the violence and war in this world. And so God responded accordingly in order to fulfill his purposes. The authority to wage limited war was given by God to the Israelites. That authority was never given to Christians either by Jesus or his apostles. In fact they commanded the complete opposite, in harmony with the New Covenant based on love.
Jesus’ teachings fulfill the law and the prophets (Mt. 5:17). The OT contains patterns and types, but the NT is the reality. Jesus’ commands supersede the Law. For example, the woman caught in adultery was, according to the Law, to be stoned to death, yet Jesus forgave her (Jn 8:3-11). Moses said to give a woman a certificate of divorce and thus dissolve the marriage, but Jesus overruled Moses (Mt 5:31-32). Jesus taught his disciples to be peacemakers, not warmongers. We are disciples of Jesus, not disciples of Moses or Joshua. Jesus is the final authority from God and he commands us to be peacemakers. To follow Moses but disobey Jesus is still disobeying Jesus. Disobeying Jesus proves we are not his disciples.
To claim authority to wage war, based on OT accounts regarding Israel, is to do damage to good biblical hermeneutics. It makes one wonder if this is merely a pretext.
Didn’t Jesus Say to “Take Up the Sword”? (Lk 22:36)
Jesus cannot contradict himself because he speaks the truth at all times. He told Peter to “put down the sword” (Mt 26:52), and that “those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.” Since Jesus clearly taught nonviolence there must be another reason why Jesus would say this to Peter.
If we look carefully at the context, Jesus is talking about a change in condition among his disciples. At first they needed no money bag, knapsack or sandals when he sent them out to preach—just faith in him. But now, they should procure these, as well as selling their cloaks to buy a sword. What does this mean? Certainly Jesus is not promoting violence and materialism!
The cloak, or outer garment, is the symbolic mark of the righteous standing of a Christian. A white outer garment signifies righteousness, Godly approval, and a stained outer garment signifies sin and corruption (Rev 3:4). This most probably is a prophecy about how the church would trade its white outer garment for temporal blessings and the sword of the state—which it would use to enforce Church law. We have seen this was fulfilled in detail with Constantine and the creation of first the Catholic, then later the Protestant apostate church systems. They indeed sold their outer garment for a sword. And they proceeded to use the sword to enforce their will on others–a direct contradiction of Christian teaching.
Aren’t we to “Be in subjection to the superior authorities”? (Ro 13:1)
Jesus gave the principle: “Pay Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Mt 22:17-22). He is speaking of relative subjection. We obey Caesar, the government, as long as our Christian consciences are not violated. The apostles disobeyed the Sanhedrin when it ordered them to stop preaching about Jesus. The early Christians were viciously persecuted by Rome for disobeying commands to perform pagan religious rites, such as worshipping the Emperor. And so Christians today should disobey their government when it orders them to arm themselves and kill others in war. By doing so we prove our loyalty to Christ is stronger than our loyalty to our carnal, worldly government. We also prove that our love of neighbor prevents us from killing him.
Why didn’t Jesus or the apostles ask Roman soldiers to leave the army?
Jesus heals the Roman Centurion’s servant, but says nothing about the Centurion leaving the Roman army. (Mt 8:5-10) Does this not constitute a tacit support for war?
This is arguing from silence. We don’t know what Jesus was thinking at the time and we don’t know what happened to the Centurion after his encounter with the Lord. We are only told he healed the man’s servant, and that the Centurion had great faith.
We know from history that converts to early Christianity were forbidden to join the army, or to serve as magistrates or princes (Gibbon, p. 50), although allowance was made for those that became Christians as soldiers. Perhaps Jesus left the Centurion to his own conscience, knowing he would make the correct decisions in time if he remained faithful. We don’t really know, so we can’t use this incident to prove anything one way or the other. What this incident does prove is that it was possible for one to be a soldier and come to Christ, just as it was possible to be a prostitute and come to Christ. In both cases, however, we would expect to see a clear change in character and behavior over time.
Those who do not try to stop evil people from committing evil acts are as guilty as the evil people themselves
This is really a false dilemma. The choice is not between stopping evil people or not, but rather choosing the wisest course of action without violating Jesus’ commands. This is also a straw man argument. It assumes Christians will always be passive bystanders, and will never try to help a person in trouble. This is not true.
On several occasions, when Paul was being hunted down by the Jews, his Christian friends planned his escape. They were not passive bystanders. Yet they did not commit any violence against the Jews either. In this they obeyed Jesus. When the Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem the first time, in 66 C.E., Christians trapped therein did not join with the resistance movement to fight the Romans. According to proponents of the “Just War” theory, they should have fought the Romans (although “Just War Theory” was not invented until centuries after the apostles were dead). Instead, they waited until the army withdrew, and then escaped from the city.
Are we to believe that the Christians should have armed themselves and returned to Jerusalem to fight the Romans with their Jewish countrymen? When they didn’t, are we to declare them guilty of evil acts when the Romans returned to destroy Jerusalem in 70 C.E.? Surely this is absurd! The Christian principles and teachings that held then still hold now.
A Christian is free, according to his conscience, to do what he can to aid a brother or a neighbor or even an enemy—but nonviolently. There is an amazing story of an Anabaptist, Dirk Willems, being pursued by an enemy across a frozen lake near the village of Asperen in 1569. His pursuer had fallen through the ice and would surely have perished. Dirk, however, walked back across the frozen lake and saved the life of his enemy. He was immediately arrested, tried, and burned at the stake for heresy. I suppose Christians that support war would have kept running and their consciences would have been clean. In all honesty I don’t know what I would have done. But the Lord will remember Dirk Willem and so do we. He demonstrated the courageous love of the Christ which is beyond understanding.
Let us be clear on one point. The guilty parties are those that perpetrate the violence, not those that are loyal to Christ and the Kingdom, and refrain from violence. In the judgment to come, those that commit violence will be held accountable, not those who strived to obey Jesus’ commands to love our brothers, neighbors and even our enemies in this wicked world.
Evildoers and sin must be punished. The state provides the means to punish them, and we must support the state
First, we must realize that when Paul was talking about the Roman state and our [relative] obedience to its laws [where our consciences are not violated] he was not talking about a ‘Christian’ government. The Roman government at that time was pagan, and Christians kept separate from it—not serving in the army, as magistrates, or as princes (Gibbon p. 50). Those who support war usually think their country and its government is ‘Christian’, but this is a delusion that Paul would have been quick to point out. Professing Christianity does not make one a Christian, for we will “know them by their fruits.” (Mt 7:16-20)
God has allowed worldly governments to arise to provide some structure and stability in this wicked world until Christ returns to establish the Kingdom. At that time these governments will be done away with (Daniel 2:44) and Christ will rule. It is true that governments have been given authority from God to punish evildoers. Paul states this clearly in Romans. However, it is fallacious to equate these governments with Christians. That is why the Anabaptists would not allow their members to serve either in the military or as a Justice. Professed Christians should seriously consider their example, and know that this was also the view of early apostolic Christianity.
Christians who subscribe to nonviolence benefit from the police and the army but won’t do their work and so are hypocrites
If all men were true Christians, there would be no war, crime or violence. But until then, Christians must live as aliens in a foreign land.
True Christians pay their taxes honestly and obey the laws of the land where those laws don’t violate their Christian consciences. In this they are generally viewed as model citizens. Since God has given authority to worldly governments in this age to punish evil, Christians also benefit from these services. However, for Christians to engage in the actual violence contradicts their calling and divides their loyalty.
An illustration may help. If I was a Canadian ambassador to Russia, my job would be to represent Canada’s interests—to see where our countries could work together to achieve mutual aims. As a professional diplomat however, I would not become involved in the internal conflicts within Russia itself—this is not my role. To do so may in fact invite discipline or even termination from my employer, the Canadian government, as well as the wrath of the Russian government.
Similarly, true Christians are subjects of the Kingdom of God, which is not part of this world. We represent Kingdom interests to the entire wicked world, not just our own country. Every unbeliever worldwide is a potential Christian that needs to hear the Gospel. We are “ambassadors substituting for Christ.” (2 Cor 5:20) We stay neutral in the political conflicts of this world and plead with people to be reconciled with God. We tell them about the joys of the Kingdom now and the consummation to come, and invite them to join us. To become involved in the political or military conflicts of this world is to divide the brotherhood and our loyalties. We risk being disciplined or dismissed by Jesus.
God is the ultimate authority over all powers and governments. He has given worldly governments authority to punish evil. And, he has given true Christians authority to preach the gospel in this wicked world, but desires them to remain separate from it—to show the world a better, higher way, using the diplomacy of preaching and teaching motivated by love. And so, in obedience to Him, this we do.
From Christian Pacifism, by Dale Brown, p.164:
“A Christian pacifist cannot promise that the way of the Cross will be effective in any given situation. She or he cannot assume that the pacifist way will be widely accepted. There does remain the faith that the way of the Cross is the right response and that, if it is tried, God may use it for the best of all.”
We have briefly, in this article, looked at the deplorable history of violence and support of war by the Churches—both Catholic and Protestant. Volumes could be written about their shameful record, but it will suffice to outline a few highlights. We have seen that neither Jesus nor the early Christians either taught or supported war. As time went on, the Church became corrupt, developed a “Just War” theory, partnered with governments, and supported them in the prosecution of their many wars against each other and against their own people. Christians slaughtered Christians and the religious leaders shamelessly supported the carnage from the pulpit. The Churches even used governments to enforce their own brand of Christianity, creating, in effect, a corrupt state Church.
And yet, true Christianity survived in small movements and communities. It maintained its adherence to Christ’s commands, showing love for one other, love for neighbor, and even love for enemies. They were brutally persecuted by first the Catholics, and later the Protestants, yet they courageously maintained their obedience to Christ. We should follow their example, even though we may suffer abuse like they did. This will only confirm that we belong to Christ and not to the world, for “a servant is not above his master. If they persecuted me they will persecute you.” (Jn 15:20)
Like the early Christians, we should not compromise and become part of this world, but rather wait patiently for the return of our Lord and the establishment of his rule over this earth. In the meantime, we preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, and beg all men to become reconciled to God. And we prove our love for our Lord and Savior Jesus, by our life-course and our obedience to his commands.
Copyright 2006 Gordon H. Coulson, all rights reserved
Last Updated December 18th, 2006