This post is part of a series.
In Part 01, I introduced three situations in which pure pacifism may fail, and in which we need some balancing principles that prevent enabling of sin, abuse, and death of innocents.
Profound Truths As Paradox
Such pairs include ideas like the balance between mercy and justice, love and truth, or predestination and free will. However, one of the keys to rightly applying these paradoxical pairs is to avoid the mistake of thinking that they must be applied equally.
In fact, with most of these, the proper approach is to emphasize one almost to the exclusion of the other (like in a 90/10 ratio). The primary principle applies the majority of the time, but with appropriate limits set by the other principle for outlying, more extreme applications in which the secondary, paradoxical principle eclipses the main principle to keep it from being applied absurdly.
Example: Predestination and Free Will
Although this example is probably the most contentious and debatable, I employ it because, as a former victim of Arminian holiness, which emphasized our personal responsibility (free will) to repent and stay holy, I know that the lack of a balancing principle (predestination) can make Christianity a torment. The result is that preachers can weigh down parishioners with unrealistic expectations of ‘sanctified’ goodness that depend, not on the grace and response to the work of God, but on the level of devotion and will of the individual.
Equal and opposite evils can result from Calvinism unrestrained by a workable integration of man’s free will. Many Christians may want to explore Molinism, which is a fantastic integration of these two extremes. Whether or not you think the 90/10 ratio is predestination/free-will, or vice versa, is up to you.
Example: Mercy and Justice
For a perhaps less contentious example, think about the balance between a justice and mercy. Should justice be without mercy or mercy without justice? But more than just admit that these work together, we should also affirm that the 90% principle is mercy, and the 10% ought to be dispassionate justice. Surely, we are to err on the side of mercy, since even in the strict Jamesian estimation:
For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13 NASB)
But what are the balancing and paradoxical Biblical counterparts to pacifism and non-violence? Let me propose three.
1. Refusing to Enable Sin – Reproof and Rebuke
When our practices of gentleness and peace fail to bring correction to a consistently erring sinner, we may be guilty of failing to lovingly deliver truth. Often, our idea that we should be willing to suffer abuse for the faith interferes with our objectivity in correcting those that err.
What I mean by that is that when we are in that position, somehow the teachings about putting the needs of others above our own, or being willing to suffer for the faith derail any interventions by us. Our unqualified emphases on mercy may create an overactive conscience (‘weak’ conscience, cf. 1 Corinthians 8:7-8) that finds no place for delivering rebuke, especially when we may be the direct beneficiaries of such a move.
We think it ignoble to act so ‘selfishly.’ At the very least, we need to view this as a time to implement biblical discipline, which starts with ‘telling them their fault’ (Matthew 18:15-17).
To balance the passages we know that encourage selfless suffering, we ought to consider these passages:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:2-4 ESV)
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1 ESV)
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools. (Proverbs 26:3-12 ESV)
I have often lamented that one of the errors of the modern church is its lack of appreciation for the created self, resulting in theology that either actively or passively approves of the destruction of the self under the guise of ‘selflessness.’ And it’s sick. 3 4
…modern Christianity has an equally destructive denial and hatred of the self grounded in poor exegesis of Scripture. Relying on misunderstandings of such scriptures as Matthew 16:24and Romans 2:8, they assume that the created self is bad, and is to be ignored, and that the only solution to the cries of the self to be loved and restored is to ‘focus on who you are in Christ, not your self.’
This gross misunderstanding of how God saves, loves, restores, and leads us to surrender the created self in loving service to others has hurt and failed more people than I care to know.
While we must be willing to suffer loss of possessions and even our own lives in service to God, we ought to also consider that God holds us responsible for the use, development, and care of the resources that he gives us, which especially include our own bodies and souls, as well as our families.
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8 ESV)
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NASB)
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. (Matthew 10:16)
Admittedly, these scriptures are being stretched a little in trying to support good stewardship of the self and one’s possessions and families, but the principle, while not absolute, still stands as a reasonable limit to allowing others to destroy us. We are given our own lives to live for God, and not waste through foolishness.
3. Protection of the Innocent and Punishing the Guilty
First, I acknowledge that God forbids vigilante justice, and promises to take vengeance on the unrepentant, so we can rest in not having to take vengeance (Romans 12:9).
These are easily derived from the household codes, which are addressed to the heads of and participants under each government (Col 3:18—4:1, Eph 5:21—6:9, Titus 2:1-10, 1 Peter 2:18—3:7), and while each has its own limited sphere of authority, they all share the responsibility within those spheres to encourage, protect, instruct, enforce, rebuke, and punish.
While we might all agree that the civil government has a right to use force to protect its people, we might also consider that parents have the right to employ the rod on their children (though not as a first or only method), and as citizens and agents in the other spheres of authority, we have similar responsibility to protect, warn, and punish.
So here’s my premise – if civil government can use force in protecting the innocent, I think anyone can use force to protect the innocent if mortal threat is present. Now, some might say that this would vindicate the killing of abortion doctors, and in my mind, surprisingly, it might, just like it would allow for killing any serial murderer caught in the act.
However, this begins a gray zone over which perhaps the principles of delegated authority and rule of law also apply. But there is no rule that denies that you can protect those under your care.
Here are some passages that allow for the use of force in protecting the innocent.
For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:4 NIV)
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Proverbs 13:24 ESV)
Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. (Jeremiah 22:3a ESV)
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7 ESV)
If a thief is caught in the act of breaking into a house and is struck and killed in the process, the person who killed the thief is not guilty of murder. (Exodus 22:2 NLT)
I am not arguing for a violent, shoot first and ask questions later Christianity. I entirely agree that we should be peaceable, willing to suffer abuse, and even death with faith in God’s future vengeance and rewards. And I admit that trying to make a case for limits to pacifism based on scripture, especially the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus is difficult, if not weakly convincing.
But the reason for this difficulty is not because such ideas are wrong, but because, as mentioned, such principles exist, not as an equal and opposite teaching to pacifism, but as limits in the application of such teachings, and as such, are mentioned with less priority and proportion – think of it as a 90/10 proposition, where the 10% argument is valid as a limiter, and that without it, you get a 100% pacifist solution, which fails in light of unrepentant, mortal evil, and can lead to abuses such as enabling evil, irresponsible stewardship, and the destruction of the innocent and weak.
What say ye?
- Holding Biblical Truths in Tension: The Need of the Hour (pastgorhistorian.com) ↩
- There is No Such Thing as “Theological Tension” (The Pedestrian Christian) ↩
- Orthodox Heresies – 7 false doctrines of the Church (wholereason.com) ↩
- Finding God’s Call 3 – A Biblical view of self-love (wholereason.com) ↩
- The 5 Functions of Government (wholereason.com) ↩
- PODCAST: Work and Slavery (wholereason.com) ↩