What does it mean when I say I am a pacifist?

What does it mean to be a pacifist?  As a Christian, it means that I trust in God.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  Psalm 20:7

I believe that Pacifism is a reasonable and rational response to the basic doctrines of the Christian faith – not the least of which is the authority and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture for all faith and practice.  For those who hold a high view of scripture as inspired by God, the ideal of pacifism must at least be reckoned with in a serious manner.

While I respect the fact that some Christians might disagree with the conclusions I draw from my study of scripture, those who reject outright the notion that pacifism is a Christian response to violence are, at the very least, dealing in intellectual dishonesty.

Also understand that I greatly respect those who serve in military.  My own brother, who obviously would not share my convictions on these issues, is currently on deployment in Afganistan.  He has served on two deployments in Iraq.

These convictions are deeply held personal beliefs which I have held for more than two decades.  All I ask is that those who disagree – esepcially those who are Christian – that you explore this basic outline and texts and give serious thought to the notion that Jesus way MAY ACTUALLY BE A PATH OF NON-VIOLENCE.

If you value the authority of Holy Scripture in matters of Christian faith and practice and have never entertained the notion that pacifism might be biblically Christian, I must submit that you have not seriously engaged the scripture.

Theological Reflections

Despite honest difference as to HOW all that is came into being, one thing that Christian agree upon is that God is ultimately responsible as the Creator.  Some may contend that God acted in six day, resting on the seventh – or they may believe that a “day is as a thousand years” unto the Lord, therefore creation may have come into being over a longer period of time.  Yet both views concur that God is the creator.

Further, as the scriptures say, God made all things through Jesus…

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1:16

So, Jesus took part in the creation of all that is, and it finds its fulfillment in Him.  Further, all that has been created is held together and sustained by his power.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.  Hebrews 1:3

So, then, Jesus instructions about LIVING and RELATING TO ONE ANOTHER (and the entire CREATED ORDER) were given for our benefit and blessings. Living contrary to his instructions is what brings about brokenness, disorder, violence and war.  It matters not what side of the conflict you stand (communist or capitalist, Muslin or Hindu, Iraq or the USA); what matters is whether or not we honor Jesus and live out of his indwelling Spirit which will ALWAYS lead us to live in accordance with his teachings.

Jesus’ words, then, are our guide.  So, what did Jesus teach? Just from the book of Mattew, consider the following FEW verses (there are MANY OTHERS).

“Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

“Do not use force against an evil man.” Matthew 5:39

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” Matthew 7:4

“He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:52

The early church also believed this to be the way of life for Christ’s followers, as witnessed in the words of the Apostles…

“Do not return evil for evil.” 1 Peter 3:9 & Romans 12:17

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:19

“Overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

The Example of Jesus

Christian often say things like, “We must follow the example of Jesus in this matter!”  Unfortunately, for many, this only relates to issues of personal morality.  Might the example of Jesus also relate to social issues like war and peace?  I certainly do not intend to limit the Lordship of Jesus to matters of what magazines I glance at in the convenient market.  The old adage, “If Jesus is not Lord of all, then he is not Lord at all” comes to mind.

So, when did Jesus defend himself?  When did he advocate killing his enemies?  When did he act in a vengeful fashion?  The answer to all of these questions is NEVER.  So, will we follow his example, or shoot back when fired upon?

The only point in Jesus ministry where Jesus acted in any way that might be argued as violent is when he cleanses the temple.  So, let’s look carefully at what happened and why!

Jesus approached the temple for prayer – a temple that was created, according to the Hebrew scripture, to be a “house of prayer for all people.”  The temple consisted of three chambers.  The inner chamber was for the High Priest to offer sacrifices.  The next chamber out was only for Jewish men to worship.  The outer chamber/court was the place where Gentiles and women could worship (“house of prayer for all people”).  Here, in this chamber, sat the money changers who exchanged Greek money for Temple coinage that could then be used to purchase sacrificial animals.  So, in the center of the sanctuary for women and Gentiles, a commerce center had been set up.  Not very conducive for a “house of worship for all people,” now is it?

Jesus, seeing the exclusionary behavior on the part of the Temple hierarchy (denying the one place for Gentiles and women to worship) fashioned a whip, drove out the animals, and turned over the tables or the money-changers.  “The scriptures say my house is to be a place of prayer for all people, but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

So, Jesus is reacting to the injustice that robbed the Temple of its purpose by denying Gentiles and women their place of worship and prayer.  I must admit that this one story is a challenge for pacifist.  Jesus actions are not those of a Mr. Milquetoast sort of fellow.  Then again, it is a mistake to see Christian pacifism in such a way (though war-mongers say such things all the time).  The reality is that Christians who reject violence as a response to violence as not lacking in courage.  Just the contrary, one of the bravest things a person can do is stand fast to his or her convictions without lashing back when slapped, instead “turning the other cheek” as Jesus instructs.

Still, what to do about this story – this one single story?

Was Jesus reacting violently to a violent attack on himself?  NO!  He was reacting against injustice perpetrated in the name of God.

Was Jesus doing physical harm to any single person?  The text is unclear.  Driving out animals and turning over tables, however, is certainly NOT the same as “calling fire down from heaven,” which Jesus clearly rejected as a response to Samaritans who failed to welcome his message.

What is clear to me is that this story, when held up to the light of the entirety of Jesus teachings and example, cannot be a justification for war.  The weight of the New Testament is clearly on the side of reacting non-violently to the threat or use of violence against us.  At the very least, the totality of Jesus teachings should lead us to perceive violence as an absolute last resort, to be engaged in using the most minimal of means possible.  (This hardly seems to be the attitude of many in our own nation, steeped in two wars, with the backing of the most sophisticated and advance armaments in human history.  When our own nation has the ability to (conservatively) destroy all life on planet earth some fifteen times over, something is seriously off kilter.  If Jesus were going to clear out anything today – it might be the military industrial complex, which is trading money for weapons on a planet created for all humanity to abide.

Consider that single fact:  The USA all by itself has the ability to destroy the entire planet fifteen times over.  As Bill Coffin said, “One time over should be sufficient, but it is always nice to bounce the rubble a bit!”

We are to follow the ways of Jesus.  He did not defend himself.  He did not advocate the killing of his enemies.  He died with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips.  He was the epitome of non-retaliation.  He died to redeem humanity.  I cannot follow this Jesus while supporting the death of my enemies.  My desire is to see my enemy redeemed through sacrificial love, expressed by Jesus (and prayerfully through his Spirit in which I abide and which abides in me by Divine grace.

Pacifism is Biblical

For those who believe that theological reflection is wasted motion and who believe that something is ONLY biblical is there is a preponderance of biblical verses to support it, I add the following short selection of scriptures.  NOTE: There are so many more passages that could be added that teach about the roots of war (usually greed); the ways of peace (love), the model for living (the cross); the ministry of the church (reconciliation); and so many other appropriate topics that it would be akin to quoting the vast majority of the New Testament.  By the way, I am sticking to the New Testament, but with the full knowledge that many Hebrew Bible passages also support pacifism.  I stick with the New Testament because, as a Christian, Jesus is my teacher, example, and life source.
New Testament References

Mt 5:39 But I say to you, Do not make use of force against an evil man; but to him who gives you a blow on the right side of your face let the left be turned.

Mt 5:44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Lu 6:42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ’Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Mt 7:12 In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Matt 10.28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Mt 26:52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.

Lu 6:27 But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also;

Lu 6:35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Lu 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;

Lu 12:22 And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on.

Rom 5.8,10 8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us…. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Ro 12.17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”

2 Co 10:4 The weapons with which we fight are not human weapons, but are mighty for God in overthrowing strong fortresses.

Eph 6.12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Col 1.16 for in him [the son] all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him.

Heb 1.2-3 In these last days [God] has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

1 Peter 2.21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly.

1 Peter 3.8 Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love of the brethren, a tender heart and a humble mind. :9 Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain a blessing….21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good .

1Th 5:15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.

Okay, this is enough for now.  I welcome exchange and imput from any who disagree, who might have questions, or who think I am right on target.  Life is too short, however, or anything flippant or trite.  For example, if you think it is unAmerican to oppose war (as one well-meaning Christian once said) – consider two things.

I do love my country and I am a partriot.

What does it say about your patriotism if you think that it is American to blindly support war?

In any event, things that come across in such a manner will just be passively ignored and deleted.

Oh, I want to give credit for the Mennonite church and other anabaptist traditions for helping inform my convictions and the content of this blog.  My Doctor of Ministry dissertation/project dealt with the Anabaptist tradition and this content (including these traditions historic pacifist convictions) can be found in prior blog posts on this site.

One Response to “What does it mean when I say I am a pacifist?”

  1. Norman Jameson says:

    I SO appreciate this, Bill. Jesus’ way IS a non-violent way. I am continually mystified at how Christians rush off to bear arms against others of God’s creation who supposedly are threatening our nation. Would Jesus have killed someone to protect a “way of life?” Never. Don’t worry about Jesus’ anger at the temple. He didn’t kill anyone, nor would He have. His outrage is not a denial of a pacifistic nature. Can those who claim to adore Jesus and adhere to His teachings; who believe God created each human; who believe we are not of this world, that we are just spirits in flesh passing through, really believe it is alright to wage war against others of God’s creation? Thank you for this piece. Here is something on the matter:

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