I was what my dad called growing up a “wee war monger” my toy cupboard looked like a cross between an armoury and a barracks, being filled with toy guns, toy soldiers and umpteen Action Men ( GI JOES for you colonials). In my bedroom military aircraft hung from the roof in dog fights and model tanks took pride of place on my shelves. As soon as I hit 13 and three quarters I joined the AIR TRAINING CORPS, the youth organisation linked to the Royal Air Force and began preparing for what I planned would be a career in the military.
I was accepted for the military but romance meant I got married and joined the police. In the police I used violence, violence to protect the public, my fellow officers and myself. When I went to theological college and had to write an ethics essay I chose to write one supporting the so called JUST WAR THEORY and Christians right to take part in armed conflict and use violence in pursuit of a greater good.
I tell you all that because it gives you a bit of a context when I say today I am Christian pacifist and am opposed to using violence and believe it’s wrong for Christians to serve in the military. I have done a 180 degree turn from my former position and that change was neither quick nor easy and still sits uncomfortably with me at times. Yet it was a change I felt compelled to make.
What compelled me was serious theological and biblical study. The more I seriously looked at the New Testament and especially the Gospels the more I came to the conclusion that it’s clear teaching was non violence and that I had been using poor “get out clauses” to pretend the clear teaching of Jesus on non violence could be abrogated to such an extent that it became little more than theoretic. The more I studied Jesus example, which we are continually called on as his disciples to follow, the more I saw he was consistently non violent and translated his teaching on forgiving and loving enemies and turning the other cheek when assaulted violently into actions. Jesus life embodied his teaching on non violence perhaps most clearly and powerfully through his Passion.
I then wondered how the earliest generations of Christians before .Christianity became a state religion under Constantine understood these questions as they were closer to Jesus and his disciples and therefore more likely to reflect his teaching. I got hold of Ron .Siders book called THE EARLY CHURCH ON KILLING in which he carries out the most complete review of everything that was written in the early church around the subject of taking human life, whether by the military in war, the state through execution and citizens by abortion and violence and showed the Early Church was almost completely committed to non violence. Here is part of his conclusion
“Nevertheless, I think we need to take seriously what the Christians in the first three centuries thought Jesus was saying. They were much closer to him in time than we are, and there is reason to think they would have had a pretty good understanding of what he meant. Therefore, given that every single Christian text we have on killing from the first three centuries, whether war, capital punishment, or abortion, says that Christians don’t do that, and with some frequency they say that’s because of what Jesus said and did, I think Christians today ought to listen to them with some seriousness. But it’s not the ace of spades, you know. It is one significant piece of what we should consider when we ask whether Christians should be pacifists or just-war people.”
The other key book in my transition was Preston Sprinkles FIGHT in which for me he makes an unanswerable case for the New Testament teaching non violence as the ethic for Christ followers.
On his blog Sprinkle sums up his case for non violence ( http://www.prestonsprinkle.com/blogs/theologyintheraw/2016/6/3/fight-a-christian-case-for-non-violence )
I’ve still yet to see a compelling case, driven by Scripture, biblical theology, and early church history, for using violence as a Christian way to defeat or confront evil—that is, stopping bad guys from doing bad things. Almost every argument I’ve seen is profoundly utilitarian, secular, and almost completely (sometimes completely) ignores the nature of Jesus’s upside down kingdom. It usually comes down to cultural assumptions salted with a few (mainly Old Testament) verses taken out of context, which are then baptized in the bloody images from Revelation.
So, let me lay out my reasons for advocating for Christocentric nonviolence in the briefest way I can. The evidence for my following points can be found in my bookFight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.
First, Jesus’s vocation as “Messiah” was loaded with militaristic expectations. The Jews expected a military conqueror who would destroy his enemies. Jesus’s posture and teaching was diametrically opposite to these militaristic expectations. In other words, Jesus constructed an intentional paradigm shift designed to create new ethical categories for how Yahweh followers are to confront evil. People who say that Jesus and his followers didn’t use violence because they were a small group and it wouldn’t have worked against the massive Roman empire should stop saying they believe in a divine Messiah. There’s nothing in the New Testament that shuns violence for utilitarian reasons.
Second, Jesus never acted violently to fight injustice or defend the innocent. And there were many innocent people suffering right under his nose in first-century Palestine. Jesus endured unjust accusations and physical attacks, and yet he never responded in kind. He was spit upon, punched, slapped (Matt 26:67), and had his head pounded with a stick (Matt 27:30), yet he never used violence to defend himself or attack his perpetrator. Jesus therefore models his own command to not “violently resist evil…but turn the other cheek.”
Jesus was tortured and crucified unjustly for treason, yet he offers only forgiveness and love toward his enemy. Jesus’s life is peppered with violent attacks, yet he never responds with violence. He embraces suffering, not because he is weak, but because suffering contains more power in defeating evil than using violence, and suffering is the pathway to resurrection glory (Rom 8). In doing so, Jesus shattered all Jewish expectations of how a Messiah should act. It’s not that Jesus just happened to act nonviolently. Rather, he directly and intentionally demilitarized the meaning of messiah and kingdom.
Third, Jesus taught his followers to follow the same rhythm of nonviolence and enemy-love. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also” (Luke 6:27-29). Whenever violence is mentioned, it’s always shunned. There’s no biblical evidence that only some of our enemies are to be loved, or that we should love our nonviolent enemies, but kill the ones who are trying to harm our families or our nation. Jesus’s countercultural commands are unqualified and absolute. And whenever the disciples try to confront evil with violence, they are rebuked (Luke 9; 22).
Now, some will say that Jesus’s nonviolent journey to the cross was necessary for Jesus to atone for our sins. He had to suffer; he had to die. His nonviolence wastheologically necessary not practically mandatory for all. But the Bible says that it was both…
Fourth, Jesus’s nonviolent journey to the cross was both theological andethical. Yes, Jesus had to die, so he chose not to resist his death. But NT writers view his nonviolent journey to the cross as a pattern for believers to follow. 1 Peter 2, Romans 12, Philippians 2, and other passages draw upon Jesus’s nonviolent journey to the cross as a model for believers to follow.
The sheer volume of NT commands that flow out of Jesus’s teaching andposture in the face of violence is striking.
“Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse” (Rom 12:12:14)
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil…”
“Never avenge yourselves…”
If your enemies are hungry, feed them, if they are thirsty, give them something to drink”
“Overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:17-21)
When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly” (1 Cor 4:12-13)
“Let your gentleness be known to everyone” (Phil 4:5)
“See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all” (1 Thess 5:15).
“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Pet 3:9)
“strive for peace with everyone” (Heb 12:14).
The author of Hebrews commends believers for “joyfully accepting the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb 10:34).
Again, all of these commands flow out of the life and teaching of Christ; what he said and what he did; what he taught and how he lived—especially in his last days as he journeyed to the cross.
By far, the most dominant WWJD moment in the entire New Testament is when later writers referred back to Jesus’s nonviolent teaching. There is no single ethical theme that garnered as much interest among our inspired authors as Jesus’s nonviolent posture.
That’s kinda huge.
Fifth, even though injustice and evil were rampant in the first century, there’s no verse in the New Testament that commands or allows believers to use violence to confront evil or defend the innocent. Some say: using violence to defend the innocent or defend yourself is never forbidden in the New Testament, and therefore it’s okay. But given the dominant and pervasive rhythm of Jesus’s nonviolent posture and countercultural teachings on how we are to treat our enemies, I believe the burden of proof lies with those who think that violence can be used against our enemies in certain circumstances. There are many more passages which would suggest that Christians shouldn’t use violence against their enemies (Matt 5; Luke 6; Rom 12; the book of Revelation), compared to possible passages that would permit a believer to use violence.
Sixth, the pre-Constantine early church almost unanimously read the New Testament the same way I do. This is striking. Shocking, actually, and profoundly so. The early church could hardly agree on anything. They couldn’t even agree on the nature of Christ or which books should be in the Bible! But when it came to the question of killing, whenever early church theologians (whose writings we have) address the question of whether Christian should kill, they all say “no!” Origin, Tertullian, Cyprian, Athenagoras, Lactantius, Arnobius, and others always condemned killing; Christians should never kill. They even went out of their way to distinguish between unjust and just killing—that is, killing bad people who deserve it. Yet Christians aren’t ever to kill, even if they deserve it. Across the board, killing is always and everywhere forbidden. Christians should never kill. Here’s just one example from Lactantius:
When God forbids killing, he doesn’t just ban murder, which is not permitted under the law even; he is also forbidding to us to do certain things which are treated as lawful among men. No exception at all should be made: killing a human bing is always wrong because it is God’s will for man to be a sacred creature (Lactantius, Divine Institutes)
Anyway, that’s a 1,000 word summary of my 70,000 word book, and the most concise way I could sum up a very complicated topic. I fear that my non-pacifist friends have not appreciated the upside down rhythm of the New Testament’s prescribed method of dealing with evil. And, as I said before, I have yet to see a compellingChristian case made for the sanctity of using violence against evil. One that makes sense of the nonviolent posture and teaching of Christ, the New Testament’s pervasive repetition of Jesus’s nonviolent commands, and the early church’s strikingly unified celebration of this ethic. The early church would have yawned at this blog. To be honest, I tend to ho-hum all the theoretical scenarios thrown my way, in light of such rich and multilayered Christian reasons for advocating a nonviolent way of life.
Faithfulness, folks. Jesus calls us to faithfulness, not perceived effectiveness. When I face my Saviour, I want him to know that I tried my hardest to live a faithful life which sought to replicate his own life on earth”.
After the very sad events in Orlando I have been utterly dismayed to see Christians suggesting the Christian response to violence is more violence and defending their right to own military style assault weapons with which to do violence. The most disappointing aspect is in my view the total lack of any serious consideration of Jesus teaching or example on non violence beyond “it doesn’t mean you can’t defend your family” or “Jesus used violence in the Temple”
Sprinkle is bang on, I don’t see any compelling or convincing case based on solid exegesis of the NT texts, a coherent biblical theology or a justification from church history for a Christians use of violence. To me Sider and Sprinkle’s case that the New Testament calls us to non violence and the earliest Christians understood it that way and lived that way has simply not been answered.
Sorry for the long post but I am fed up with cliches on Facebook.